Daily Archives: March 5, 2019

Self Transformation As Means of Fracturing Time

Enrico David is an artist that is currently based in London who is known for his works that range across various mediums; such as his use of drawing, textiles and sculpture. Through the course of his twenty-year practice, David has exhibited in multiple renew spaces, such as the New Museum, Tate Britain and the Venice Biennale. Enrico David: Gradations of Slow Release is the first major retrospective of this artist’s work to be ever presented in the United States. David offers an access point to the intimate relationship between himself and his art objects. Striking a balance between the sculptural and the figurative, Enrico David partakes in a conversation of what it means to deconstruct the body and its identity.

Enrico David: Gradations of Slow Release is located in the exhibition hall on the first floor of the MCA, featuring a large open space that is divided by four unconnected white walls where David’s works are grouped by materials and themes rather than chronologically. This was certainly a curatorial decision that wished to highlight David’s “intuitive process and the timeless nature of it”. What Enrico David’s practice presents is a diversified body of work that collaborate with each other to create a constantly shifting landscape that blurs any sense of orientation and specific trajectories.

The first time we are introduced to this shifting theme is through the introductory didactic label of the art show. The label elaborates on the resistances of Enrico David from being defined by any particular time or space by embracing the nontraditional materials that gives space and agency to the mutation and replication of human forms. The title, Gradation of Slow Release, takes its name from the 2015 sculpture that presents an anthropomorphic body that is being manipulated to become a stretched, standing sculpture. The work morphs itself between stages of humanity and objecthood, desperately trying to search for a sense of identity. The artworks in the show exist in an environment of distress, as they are constantly begging the viewer to guide them through a process of self-identification.

Furthermore, the objects exist in a timeless space that cannot offer them a sense of identity besides the thirst of the human condition that seeks meaning. While crossing the unstable space created by the show, we bump into extreme forms of corporeal bodies that shift between the grotesque and the sterile. The Objects become an iconography that leaves us experiencing the unknown, reminding us about the fragility of the physical and mental, while still reinforcing the importance and beauty of transformations. Allowing a timeless space for us to reflect about the limitations and expectations about our own identity.
Gradations of Slow Release showcases an alternative to the chronological retrospectives that we are used to and encourages the audience to question not only the existence of an art career as a linear journey, but also the existence of humanity as a series of events placed in a chronological order. Prioritizing the importance of personal explorations as a part of our identity and the acceptance of constant transformation as the defining quality of our humanity.  

Distressed figure walking into the contemporary

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago exhibited the show, “Enrico David: Gradations of Slow Release”. The show was an introduction of Enrico David’s work to the Chicago audience along with Chicago imagists show at the Art Institute of Chicago called, “Hairy Who?”. Both shows opened on the same week and one probably could find a connection there. The depiction of figure in Enrico David’s work has similar nuance to the depiction of figure in Chicago Imagists. James Yood, renowned Chicago art critic / historian once said that the depiction of distressed figure with spice of humor is a characteristic of Chicago Imagists. It is not so hard for one to figure out that the depiction of distressed figure is predominant in Enrico David’s practice. While Art Institute of Chicago was renouncing Chicago’s art history, MCA Chicago attempted to extend the dialogue by showing a European artist, whose practice carries similar visual concerns with Chicago Imagists, but in a very different context.       

The selection of Enrico David’s twenty years of work was curated in a way that viewer could follow the process of his practice. At the entrance of the exhibition space, there was a waist height sculpture on the left and large-scale figure painting on the right. It was a thoughtful introduction for the curation of the show, starting from image based work and ending with works that carries more of three dimensional concerns. Two works at the gate allowed the viewers to have a sense of Enrico’s practice in terms of broad usage of material and forms.

The exhibition space was largely divided into four spaces. The first space one enters displayed paintings and sculptures. The sculptures were relatively smaller than paintings, and the forms of sculptures were positioned in a way that the viewer could tell the images in paintings were informed by the sculptures. The second space was focused on hanging sculptures, the whole back-wall was left empty. The decision of leaving out the big portion of wall space emphasized the proprioception in a way that the viewer had to reposition oneself to the work in a way that was different from the first space. Third space displayed paintings and sculptures that are not directly related to on another. The last space seemed like his most recent body of work. The fusion between sculpture and functional object was happening. It became more of an attempt to find a relationship between images and objects in a direct and indirect way. The works at the last space were an assemblage of different stages if his practice, which allowed the viewers to exit with questions. The curation generated a narrative between painting and sculpture, starting from definitive relationship to complex relationship to enforced fusion, which seemed cohesive enough keep viewers on track. 

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago proposed interesting questions to Chicago audience through the show, Enrico David: Gradations of Slow Release. What does it mean that the depiction of distressed figure is widely used in different contexts? How did Imagists position themselves within the distressed figure? What does usage of distressed figure mean in contemporary dialogue? How are we positioning ourselves in distressed figures at the current moment?  

The Aesthetics of White Feminism, from Baby Boomers to Millennials

The first question that comes to mind after seeing Laurie Simmons retrospective Big Camera/Little Camera at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is what does it mean to have a major exhibition in 2019 about baby boomer, white feminism?

Big Camera/Little Camera shows the progression of Simmons’s creative career from the 70s up until today. There are thematic threads that are present throughout the whole exhibition –femininity, domesticity, socially imposed gender roles and sexuality; and the exhibition reveals how the way in which Simmons has approached the themes through her art has changed drastically.

In her earlier photographs, such as the Early Black and White, Cowboys and Early Color Interiors, Simmons was critiquing how society imposes roles and gender from an early age through the toys that kids play with. This body of work, photographs of hand-made collaged settings inhabited by dolls, feels very honest. We see an adult playing with the toys of her childhood, rearranging them to create unusual scenes. The aesthetics of these photographs reveal who Simmons was at the time; a playful young American woman, concerned more with creating beautiful images than with making strong demands or critiques. The series Walking and Lying Objects shares similar qualities. Through a combination of Film Noir and surrealist aesthetics, these photographs are iconic and poetic in their own untranslatable nature. Walking and Lying Objects makes obvious comments on gender, roles and identity; however, the strength of the series is not in its politics, but in its visual appeal.

The exhibition shows how Simmons’s work evolved in a more or less predictable way, big dolls replace the little dolls, the settings become more complex and the dollhouses now have original miniature artwork inside them. As the productions’ execution increases and the critiques are more literal, the work looses its initial mystery and enchantment. A series like Two Boys, which shows idiotic, gawking teenagers in front of their laptops, has nothing poetic or mysterious; it’s nothing more but an illustration of a very shallow comment on life in the digital age. The series The Love Doll and Kigurumi, which show a bizarre touristy view on Japanese contemporary doll culture, are equally empty.

Towards the end of the show there’s a room with the portrait series How We See, which is especially interesting to compare the early DIY photographs. The hand-made and material qualities or the early photographs are completely lost in her latest work, replaced now by super produced, crisp digital images. The room is covered with big-scale, Cindy Sherman like, colorful portraits of mainly white women and a couple of women of color. Although the images are technically perfect and visually striking, it’s hard too see Laurie Simmons in these photographs. It’s not clear what’s the intention behind the advertising level production. Is Simmons using her models to state a contemporary critique? Is she trying to dignify them? Or is she hiding behind the faces of contemporary mainstream feminism?

It’s surprising that the How We See series can feel so impersonal even when Simmons used some of her family members as models. Lena and Grace Dunham photographs are in there, stealing the attention from the photographs themselves and reminding us of their own pop culture and social media narratives. Maybe that was Laurie Simmons’s intention with the series, to pass the lead to a new generation? Seeing Simmons’s children large portraits in the room has an imposing, royal-like quality: they now tell the story, they’re in charge. The sad part is that Grace and Lena’s feminism is highly questionable as well; it is also predominantly white, self-oriented and based on privilege. And yet, their pop feminism is indeed more interesting than their mother’s current lack of discourse.

Although Big Camera/Little Camera is an interesting show over all, presenting it as a major retrospective at the MCA is a definitely a big statement from the museum that we have to pay attention to. Having Laurie Simmons’s work in conversation with other female artists’ work would be less grandiose but way richer for a contemporary discussion on feminism. Why do we need more white grandiosity in our time?