Re: Figuring the Body, installation view (Amy Kaczur, Stitching Julia: installation for an imagined life), photo credit Jessica Burko
Our conceptions regarding the human body are constantly evolving, increasingly political, and incredibly fraught. One only needs to check their feed to see the increasing ways that bodies (especially those that identify female) are not only under attack but also a focal point in an increasingly connected world. One could say that the obsession with our and others’ bodies has become the zeitgeist; this one is not stoked on it.
From increasing regulation of the female form to the transformation of bodies from one gender-construct to another, the Kingston Gallery’s Re: Figuring the Body seeks to represent and parse our own views of the human body while also seeking to subvert visual/emotional conventions of the human form. The exhibition allows one to not only take in the various techniques and approaches on display, but also consider some of the toughest themes related to how we see and treat each other as humans including the subjection and treatment of brown and black bodies. In this show, all three galleries serve as a platform for artist-members in all stages of their careers to explore and expand what our bodies mean to us.
Kathleen Kneeland, Grasp This!, 2017, rose canes, thorns, string, finger nail polish, 9.75″ x 7″ image courtesy of the artist
Upon entering the space, the art-goer is greeted by the vulvic sculptures of Kathleen A. Kneeland. Aptly titled Grasp This!, the brambles that make up this piece are as direct a political statement as one could make, and also a particularly poignant one. The artist, yearning for increased body autonomy, accompanies this piece with Thorny, a felt-wrapped inversion of the facing sculpture. In Thorny, a coin purse shields the inner contents from danger. The conceit is effective, and more fun when incorporating the artist statement that posits the question: “imagine how different women’s’ lives would be if vaginas were more like Venus flytraps!” A humorous but apt metaphor for the constant threat that women face in a world built and designed by men. Although, I can never fully understand what it means to wake up as a woman amidst the myriad of threats, uncomfortable experiences, and true danger that some of the most important people in my life must face. This piece served as a well-conceived memento mori, inspired by our president’s revolting remarks on women; the work is both skillfully constructed, and inviting, as it should be, almost daring the president to grab it.
The theme of transformation of the body was continued in the work of Michael Costello with two charcoal and pastel pieces that mirror each other. The juxtaposition of Mangina and Penis Lollabridgida is one that embodies the show. The transgressive works depict the same character with contrasting genitalia. As a statement to the reduction of our societal value to our body parts, the pieces are very effective. Although they are an indictment on aesthetic culture, the pieces are both beautiful and striking, with lyrical figures and exaggerated colors that produce a transfixing effect. As I wandered through the uncharacteristically packed space of the gallery, I was struck not only in the volume of work on display but also the variety. There truly was something for every taste or sensibility. Perhaps more important than diversity of mediums was the diversity in the artists. From background to training, the amalgamation of viewpoints, perspectives and people created a natural triumph for Kingston Gallery.
Jeffrey Nowlin, Devil’s Fingers, 2019, fabric, wood and cane chair, thread, polyfil, aluminium wire, yarn, 38″ x 46″ x 45″ image courtesy of the artist
I found my favorite piece in the back gallery, installed delicately and floating like a specter over the most concrete and tactile of surrounding pieces. I was in awe of the piece by Daniel Zeese, which used materials and techniques I have never seen before.
As I took in all the works, I was particularly thankful for the work Keegan Shiner. Although a performance piece, the installation incorporates an exercise bike, Twitch stream, and a headset, allowing a moment of levity from otherwise very somber, sober themes at work. Exersational! appears both exciting and challenging, in the best way of course, not only heavy and imposing but also complete with a gamer stream going nonstop. This work was also seamlessly part of our body meditations, positing that the performance is “the legacy of Jackson Pollock, 642,000,000 Google results that say ‘art is a reflection of society’, sensationalism, self-exceptionalism, and the performance of ego pulverized by social media.”
Nicolas Papa, Butterfly on a Happy Trail, 2018, oil on panel and tighty whities, 8″ x 8″ image courtesy of the artist
While these conversations have taken over our public and personal lives, there can never be enough discourse regarding matters of the body (both physical and emotional). Artists are particularly well-suited to massage our collective consciousness and to not only open our third eye but also our voices when we are confronted face to face with some of the thornier issues in our society. We must always remember that we are of the same heart, one that yearns to be open and grow, a heart that must be nourished and challenged, regardless of the appearance of our corporal vessel. Now, I believe that anyone who reads the Boston Hassle with any sort of regularity has already begun to have these conversations, or more likely have been engaged in these conversations for years now. I understand how hard it is to divorce oneself from the very personal stakes of depictions of bodies, how it squares with our own identity and the very concrete repercussions that come from displaying something that is challenging. I applaud the artists for having the courage to push boundaries and display work that can make people uncomfortable. I implore you to check out this show! The exhibition will be on view until August 11th, and I for sure will be returning (hopefully to catch Keegan Shiner’s performance!) to reprocess the art on view. I will leave you with Keegan Shiner’s haiku regarding Exersational! : “Internet body, I must be everything, failure makes good memes.”
Re: Figuring the Body will be on view at Kingston Gallery through August 11th. More information on Kingston Gallery and the exhibition can be found here.
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