Back to the Future Future
by Brooks Turner
It all comes back to the body. Future Futurepulls together 27 artists who work in different material, whether painting, sculpture, bookmaking, installation or video. Representations rendered in diverse materials present a recognizable relationship to portraiture and the body as a whole. Some artists complicate this form of representation through either an appeal to the grid or, conversely, hiding the body in gesture, expression, or abstraction. All together, we find in Future Futuredifferent expressions and propositions on our embodiment in the world—our fleshiness, our vision, our souls, our earthiness, our emptiness, our icons, our temporality, our digitality…
Three artists use more straightforward representations of bodies to explore temporality. In Jagdeep Raina’s mixed media work renderings of family photographs in heightened colors, warped proportions, gestural expression, and collage fragments embedded in the surface bring me to meditate on the malleability of the past remembered through a snapshot in time. Rose McBurney’s,The Court, seems to also recall a relationship both to time and photography—the monotone magenta painting suggests a view of the past through rose-tinted glasses, but no warmth can be found in the blurred backs of the crowd assembled. Rather, a kind of subdued but sinister feeling, a haunting memory, capturing a moment in the past that radiates into the present. Andrew Mazorol’s two-panel painting of figures sleeping situate the body in moments of rest, bringing the poetics of time into the present.
The oldest work in the show, Nicole Eisman’s 1996 Score, feels immediate, of this moment, despite being made the year some artists in this show were born. A figure posing in a classical contrapposto and casual smile, receives cunnilingus from a woman lounging at her feet. The standing figure holds above her head a hand with a #1, queering and mocking the frat-bro language that equates sex to victory in sports, the conquering of a foe. Moises Salazar and Breck Hickman both queer the icon through their relationship to portraiture. Salazar recreates the Virgin of Guadalupe in glitter and vibrant color with a male body in place of the Virgin Mary. Hickman’s self portrait presents a psychedelic trans dreamscape using the color palette of the trans flag.
Ginny Sims and Tynan Kerr conjur in ceramics and wood, respectively, three dimensional bodies that recall the aesthetic of ancient artifacts. Sims pairs the everyday with the supernatural through gesture, while Kerr’s Big Vacant Headbears the rigidity and vapidity of a religious icon, there to intimidate and demand but simultaneously completely inert. Don Porcella’s Split Personalityreads as two bodies fucking and climaxing simultaneously, but the title leads me to read the work as a single body peeling apart. The sculpture makes me laugh, but it also feels sincere in that Platonic cliché of intimacy as two bodies becoming one. But for me, the most intimate work is Uman’s Untitledbook of gestures. Paging through the work, I am brought into the artist’s world. Even though the paint has dried, the slap of the artist’s hand, the quick gestural nothings, coupled with empty pages and stunning figural paintings, make the book feel as if it is creating itself with each turn of the page. The work captures a beautiful potential of artistic becoming through fragmented representations of bodily features and actions.
At first, I mistook Sarah Dwyer’s paintings as non-representational. But as my eye wandered through On the Horizontal in Garter, I found an ass in the intersection between two shapes, and from this ass, an entire body materialized. The universality of our body is often hidden in the aesthetic structures with which we surround ourselves—our homes, our clothes, our politics, our jobs… Katelyn Farstad’s Grass Familyfeels like looking into an abject supernova—not one of the sublime colored images taken by the hubble space telescope, but an unbalanced constellation of unknown symbols, fields of color, grids, hands sewing, sewing machines, a doll propped up and looking out at the viewer, and a giant disembodied eye that feels more like a black hole than a window to the soul. Here, the body is fragmented and set adrift in idiosyncratic patterns. The poetics of the doll and the sewing machines suggests perhaps that all these pieces can be stitched together to make up who we are. Similarly fragmented, Oakley Tapola’s EXTENSION III presents the profile of a face at the center of a solidified web as if trapped. Cameron Downey seems to have covered herself in graphite dust and thrown her body at a large sheet of paper, leaving a gestural fragment of the interaction between body and art object in Untitled. John Fleischer’s + – – or – + +utilizes the poetics of a puzzle with pegs and drilled holes, tetris-like nestled shapes, and hanging cutouts implying the possibility of interaction and movement. On the right, two silhouettes appear almost like the outline of heads with horns and goatees, but their shape is not clear and may just be abstractions. Once again a body is hidden in aesthetics… Despite its hard ceramic form, Jasmine’ Peck’s ENDOGENOUS GLOOB 14feels like a half deflated body, both in the gesture of the collapsing neck as well as the pink, fleshy color of the vessel itself. Collapsing in such a way, the vessel feels hollow: if we, like this vessel, are each of us hollow, how do we keep from collapsing?
Interaction and absence characterize Valerie Oliviero’s staircase installation, from over here / oh technocrat actuary / (LAND) less. As we descend the stairs or move from the front room to the back, our bodies displace air, rippling the silver mylar sheets Oliviero used to create a cove within a liminal space. A ghostly video projects against one side of the mylar a shimmering grey interior space of two walls, a corner, and window. A body moves through the video slowly, itself a ghostly presence within an already ghostly space, and as our bodies cause the installation to move, we become ghosts in the work as well. Christopher Corey Allen uses a similar poetics in their Nonna Is a Refractions Of Light. A video embedded in and surrounded by tufted fabric shows an anonymous corner where walls meet the ceiling. Balls of light cascade through the space. Here the absence of the body takes on a more spiritual essence in representing the soul as refracting light. Perhaps we are not hollow afterall.
Someone once asked me if everytime we took a shit we lost a part of ourselves. Emmett Ramstad’s bathroom installation recalls this conversation for me. If we do lose some piece of ourselves when we shit, then perhaps this installation offers a way to keep a memory of that lost piece, or to literally save it. The body is absent even if it can be intimately felt through the presence of toilet paper. All together, so much unused toilet paper in this installation has a blinding radiance, turning my thoughts to whiteness. Since its invention in America in the 17th century to quell a revolt of united European and African slaves, whiteness has continually strived to present a false radiance, glorifying its mundanity and evil. And yet, whiteness, like toilet paper, will always be tied to the bathroom, to shit, to stains. Whiteness wants to distract you from its purpose, it wants to be seen as important and useful. But, whiteness, like toilet paper, is wasteful and should be discarded with the shit it hides (bring back the bidet!).
The absence of the body is again emphasized in Candice Davis’ Earth as Ancestral Body. Here, a screen capture video observes various graveyards seen from above. While I do not know what connects these graveyards, it feels familial and migratory, as if the artist is tracing a lineage of her family’s movement through space and time. At each graveyard location, Davis cycles through Google Earth views, creating vibratory shimmerings of changing light through the passing of time, a suggestion that bodies absorbed into the Earth have returned to a spiritual, material whole.
Through Davis’ video we arrive at another thread of this exhibition: the body and the grid. As she transitions between cemeteries, we catch glimpses of the grids we’ve imposed on the landscape. The flesh of the earth has been shaped to the grid, and our bodies find their rest within these grids. Sophia Chai’s series of photographs emphasizes the conflict between body and grid. Through placing tape and painting shapes in a three dimensional space, Chai creates optical illusions of flat, vertical grids seen from the perspective of the camera. Bodies intervene in these spaces, warping our spatial awareness of those seemingly two dimensional lines, causing the grid to feel unreal—an impossible imposition. And such isthe case, the grid—perfect lines intersecting at right angles—is a man-made structure to which we have conformed our existence. It is an ideal delineation of space based in mathematics rather than feeling. The purity of the grid is a falsehood, and yet everything in our modern world is built on it: urban planning, farming grids, architecture…
In this light, Drew Peterson’s Nocturne I can be seen as an exploded grid—abstracted architectonic perspective lines lead the viewer deeper into the painting, parting a curtain of curvilinear pieces hanging in an unreal space. A similar kind of abstracted grid emerges in Jazoo Yang’s Materialsseries, of which 4 works display in a single line attached to a column (a beautiful curatorial decision to further emphasize the relationship to the grid). Yang has collected objects from streets in Busan, collaged them together and covered them in epoxy. Even in such a solid state, the artist’s hand feels present. Seen as a whole, these works feel like unlabeled maps, repeating and abstracting the grid of the city through the lines made by the edges of each scrap of trash. Isa Gagarin completes this thread through drawings of the basement of Hair and Nails. The architecture of the space in which these drawings are displayed becomes the grid represented. The body is not directly present, but rather simplified in quick circling gestures of charcoal drawn through the space, an illustration of how a body might navigate this basement. While these were created as studies for her show here last year, they become in this context, a meditation on our own navigation of architectural space, and perhaps also our bodily alienation from the rigidity of the grid (the lines curve and flow after all, contrasting the linearity of the basement).
Two artists engage the grid of digital space: Mathew Zefeld and Lamia Abukhadra. In Zefeld’s Head-face and Stuff, a grid is implied through the arrangement of repeated icons, thumbnails, and images set against a teal background. This “desktop painting” creates a dialogue about the visual culture of our present moment (how much of our aesthetic understanding is being changed through our constant interaction with the pixelated illusion of space captured in a desktop display?) and art history (captured through the excessive repetition of a herm bust and references in three corners to still lifes, a hallmark of the history of western painting). Zefeld’s work proposes a new paradigm through which we can come to understand our aesthetic world, a world of symbols, images, and experiences mediated by the pixelated grid-plane of a computer desktop. Through this painting, the body as an entity becomes equated with our eyes, and the tendency we have for projecting ourselves into digital spaces through vision.
Over gridded paper, Lamia Abukhadra has drawn with a loose hand a Mac desktop with open windows. Line drawings in pen of screen shots and thumbnails picturing crawler mounted drill rigs seen from different angels and in different positions fill the space of this wonky desktop. Many images are labeled with poetic ruminations on longing, love, and loss, thus invoking the body. Initially, I imagined the crawler as a surrogate for the body in the drawing, but the more I meditated on the work, I began instead to feel that the hole created by the drill was the armature around which the body materialized, for it is through absence, through loss, that longing takes shape. And it is through filling the hole of longing that we feel love and can give love.
The title Future Futurefrom the press release seems to meditate on a few different elements, such as Hair and Nails’ neighbor, The Future, the relationship the gallery has with these artists, many of whom have upcoming shows, and perhaps a suggestion that this is the future for Minnesota art. But for me, it is perhaps Zefeld and Abukhadra that establish and project the most potent notion of the future by asking us not only to contemplate eternal questions of love and longing but also situating these questions in digital landscapes that will continue to circumscribe and penetrate our bodies as time moves forward. There are many other artists in this exhibition that could be paired to offer a different take on the future (Moises Salazar and Jagdeep Raina for example), but this essay would turn into a book if I were to search through each of those connections…
Brooks Turner is an artist, writer, and educator, whose recent work engages the history of fascism in Minnesota. He is a 2020 Artist-in-Residence in the Weisman’s Collaboration Incubator and teaches at St. Cloud State University. His work has been exhibited nationally, including recently at Soo Visual Arts Center, St. Mary’s University, Steve Turner Contemporary, and College of the Redwoods. In 2017, he published A Guide to Charles Ray Sleeping Mime with Paperleaf Press and continues to write essays for Hair and Nails Gallery and Temp/reviews.