Review /

Max Hooper Schneider Jenny’s / Los Angeles

“Tryouts for the Human Race” is Max Hooper-Schneider’s second solo show at Jenny’s — and a 1979 proto-disco song by Sparks from their Giorgio Moroder era. The space is comprised of two aquariums populated by living organisms, a miniature train set, and a dollhouse, all sleek tokens for a continuing relationship of trust and fervor between the artist and his LA gallery.

The gallery’s walls, ceilings, and outlets are painted a fleshy pink color that bleeds into the complexion of anyone walking in, and gray-carpeted floors make the space feel alien. The miniature train set shares the walls’ color, sculpted in what looks like melted human flesh with to-scale human features poking through its terrain. Titled Utopia (2018), the work could suggest the future of the body, fully integrated with a transportation system and serene as a landscape. Although not referential to an existing place, the piece is reminiscent of Mike Kelley’s Chinatown Wishing Well (1999) in its homogenous build and sublimated reality. This is the first of many possible nods in the show to local and close-at-heart artists. One of the aquariums, Genesis (2018), is strongly reminiscent of Kelley’s “Memory Ware” series. The aquarium is host to tiny multicolor fish swarming alongside two massive mounds of trinkets and jewelry, many of them with pearl (real or not) finishes. The hundreds of jewelry items were carefully chosen to invoke nostalgic signs of a near-gone humanity. Cartoonish leopard prints, generic Hawaiian flowers, laminated snakeskins, and painted wooden figures are softly highlighted by touches of pink plastic, peace signs, crosses, or minuscule locks from teenage diaries. Scattered throughout are a few message pendants that spell out “discovering,” “spice,” “Mi$str$$,” “faith,” “friends,” and “HELP,” hinting at feelings no longer in effect within this ecosystem. Across the room, a white aquarium recalls Hooper-Schneider’s work as a technician for Pierre Huyghe’s 2014–15 LACMA show, with its dramatic lighting and precise composition. Many artists do skilled and unskilled work for more established ones, so why not in turn display the skills attained through hours of labor and collaboration? Titled Lady Marlene (2018), the aquarium features two mounds of marine resin–coated white vintage lingerie, with lace flowers recalling coral and draped silks forming elegant reefs. Various species of fish, crabs, and cockles crawl and swim among the newly formed ridge, with the implied hope that they might integrate into this environment. During my time in the gallery, a decorator crab escaped to carpet level, while another began eating the flesh off a plump starfish, forcing the gallerists into the roles of full-time lab technicians in order to avoid the work’s self-destruction. Even the landscape features of this Theater of Cruelty imply sentient movements of resilience, with bra straps arranged to suggest lifting shoulders and fishnet gloves pointing up above the water’s surface.

The last piece in the show, Mommy & Me (2018), is a large dollhouse partly completed in New Mexico, where Hooper-Schneider’s mother resides and where he got acquainted with a dollhouse expert who served as advisor for the project. Jenny tells me the advisor told Hooper-Schneider that “whatever you can imagine in real life exists in miniature,” suggesting unknown parallel worlds of intersecting ideas. Indeed, among hundreds of items, the partly burnt dollhouse contains multiple kinds of miniature garden lights, cinder blocks, a twice-miniaturized train set, a book titled History of the United States, an Obituary poster, and a box of Christmas decorations. Several rarefied human-scale artifacts stand out amid the abundance of appropriately sized dollhouse furnishings: a coiled phone cord ends in a curly branch, tiny limes are dried to look like pumpkins, and a miniature brain coral reef could equally pass as a human brain prop. Adding subtlety to the piece, the five rooms in the house have very distinct lighting, from the neon-lit ground-floor pet store to the warmly lit, tar-damaged Tiffany lamp store upstairs. Somehow it’s much easier to imagine reveling in the construction of such a lavish piece while living with one’s mother, where the surrounding domestic space would provide the artist with a living continuum. Film production, biology, landscape architecture, and various hobbyist practices are all parts of Hooper-Schneider’s context and schooling, and his works recognize and speak to all of these worlds, on both material and theoretical levels — in turn requiring the gallerists to get acquainted with new audiences, aquatic species, and various maintenance professionals during the course of the exhibition. Following the string of nods in the show, this last piece certainly echoes LA-based Richard Hawkins’s — who also exhibits with Jenny’s — series of haunted altered dollhouses, which get as much coverage on craft blogs and Pinterest as they do in art publications. Working with manifold interests and informed precision, Hooper-Schneider shares with Hawkins, Huyghe, and Kelley an unapologetic dedication to materializing parallel, lifelike visions of our present.

by Mona Varichon

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Rebecca Belmore AGO / Toronto

Rebecca Belmore tackles complex political themes with a daring economy of means. Canada’s shameful record of missing and murdered indigenous women, systems of land use, and the sovereignty of First Nations as well as the vulnerability of migrant populations: Belmore engages some of the most urgent crises of our time. “Facing the Monumental” is an efficient yet emotionally powerful survey of the Anishinaabekwe artist’s career.

The taut syntax of Wanda Nanibush’s curatorial presentation unfolds as a carefully argued sequence of interrelated ensembles. Nanibush, the Art Gallery of Ontario’s first curator of indigenous art, has been lauded for her innovative prioritization of indigenous languages in the gallery’s trilingual didactic materials as well as the culturally sensitive retitling of historic (mis)representations of indigenous cultures.

Tower (2018), an imposing pillar of clay encased in stacked shopping carts evocative of the repetitive grammar of both Minimalist and First Nations art, is a declaration of the exhibition’s multivalent aspirations, where the “monumental” addressed by Belmore is simultaneously the institutional and symbolic legacies of colonialism and the resilient agency of a more-than-human nature. The totem-pole-like Tower is in productive dialogue with other works exposing structures of governmentality and resistance through a tactical repurposing of standardized materials and formats.

Rebecca Belmore Tower, 2018
Rebecca Belmore Tower, 2018. Courtesy of Art Gallery of Ontario © Rebecca Belmore

Belmore broaches themes of mortality and violence with a remarkable restraint that in no way mutes the emotional impact of the final grouping of works encountered by visitors. The two-channel video installation March 5, 1819 (2008), which restages the kidnapping of Beothuk artist Shanawdithit, is granted space for reflection that is unfortunately denied an extensive archive of Belmore’s performance works, which are relegated to a simultaneous, multi-channel projection in a modest room.

A more generous contextualizing of materials would have assisted viewers — particularly visitors and new arrivals to Canada — in navigating the dense histories excavated by Belmore’s layered narratives. Where “Facing the Monumental” triumphs is in demonstrating the provocative potential of the para-exhibitionary gesture. As interlopers in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s permanent collection, satellite works, including Biinjiya’iing Onji (From inside) (2017), a marble tent quarried from the same source as the Parthenon and originally installed in Athens for Documenta 14, forcefully materialize the nomadic logic of the global refugee crisis.

by Adam Lauder

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Lawrence Abu Hamdan Chisenhale Gallery / London

“Silence is the master,” says a voice translating from Arabic to English in Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Saydnaya (the missing 19db) (2017). The voice speaking in Arabic belongs to an inmate kept in Saydnaya prison during the Syrian civil war.

Over the course of the twelve- minute audio work, presented in a darkened listening room, the voices of prisoners and a translator are interspersed with the artist’s own as they describe the sonic biography of atrocity. The title derives from the change in the sonic character of Saydnaya from the time when it housed various types of inmates to its conversion into an instrument of political violence. The “safe” decibel level for inmates to whisper to each other dropped by nineteen decibels over this period. The inmates describe the fear they felt when guards heard them making unauthorized sounds, and the way in which beatings became increasingly silent as victims suppressed their own screams in an attempt to bring their ordeals to quicker ends. Inside the listening room, the darkness and silence almost seem to take on weight, exerting downward pressure on a visitor.

Venturing into the main space, one finds the work Earwitness Inventory (2018), which presents the tools used to recreate sounds described by various “earwitnesses” of events. Animated texts elaborate upon the process of producing and inventorying these sounds. The objects are incongruous, ramshackle, surreal; the viewer moves amid an inflatable swimming pool, a helium balloon anchored to the floor with a ceramic weight, and plastic soda bottles. Projected on the gallery’s east wall is Earwitness Inventory’s text component. The events and locations the text mentions — the rooms and doors of Saydnaya prison, sinkhole events, Reeva Steenkamp’s murder trial — all explore the ways in which memory, space, and sound interact. The text is fascinating, and the events it recounts are profound chronicles of the sonic imprint of violence, but there is a strange, almost whimsical, quality to standing among the objects themselves. In an exhibition so concerned with the invisible, the objects feel like a concession of sorts. After a work as powerful as Saydnaya, one understands how hearing becomes believing; in such a context, seeing is almost superfluous.

by William Kherbek

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Jesse Darling Tate Britain / London

Jesse Darling’s sculptures at Tate are injured. They are suffering. Bent aluminum mobility crutches buckle under their own weight; the legs of cabinets collapse; Band-Aids are stuck onto glazed surfaces. Anthropomorphic, they suggest fractured bodies struggling not only to move and carry on, but also, to be. Although they are macabre in this sense, they seem playful (little birds perch on the end of wires, severed fingers are also scribbly pens): bodies working it out as they go, trying to find some joy in the journey.

In Regalia and Insignia, a corpus is fragmented, reduced to broken bones and severed fingers arranged within bondage packs and hung from butcher’s hooks. Elsewhere, the two Sphinxes of the gate (both 2018) barely guard the entrance door. Trapped within glass vitrines, the jesmonite faces of these lions are affixed to a bare skeleton armature; one is bound with a dog gag, the other sucks from a surgical pack. Taking its cue from the exhibition’s title, “The Ballad of St Jerome”, the sculptures acknowledge the story of Saint Jerome, who when confronted with a ferocious lion acknowledged its pain, removing a thorn from its paw and gaining a lifelong comrade. These sphinxes are counter to their usual sign of strength: now vulnerable, they need help — not necessarily straightforward in a society that has disdain for weakness, or uses and abuses it to strengthen tainted power structures.

Some of the works are installed up high by the skylight windows, attempting structural escape. Icarus bears the standard (2018) comprises a feather pillow strapped around a flag bracket with strap-on and dog harnesses. The phallic protrusion of the bracket is smothered with the cushion, which bulges where the black straps have cut into its softness. Each material component is constrained. Icarus’s bold quest for freedom when flying toward the sun (though ultimately doomed) morphs into one of bound subjugation, complying with restrictive standards that have been imposed upon it — in this case by the artist, but when taken as a symbol for repressive gender roles, the rules of engagement are socially constructed and perpetuated. Sometimes we must fly and fall to really know ourselves.

Darling deconstructs identity using this mix of theology and mythology, stories becoming a methodology through which to unravel contemporary attitudes toward gender, sexuality, and selfhood. The lion and batman in the garden (temporary relief) (2018) sees these two eponymous characters drawn into aluminum foil using pencil and ink — though it is the debossed impression left by the pencil that is prominent — and framed like an altarpiece. The parenthetical title has two meanings: one suggesting the momentary analgesia of pain relief substances, the other highlighting the nature of the drawing itself, which could — if the artist wanted to — be gently smoothed out with attention not to tear the foil’s surface. After all, anything can be re-worked, re-envisaged, and understood anew with a bit of care and compassion. Considered relative to the lion, we just have to look past the surface to see bodies for what they really are: flesh that is easily wounded, though which finds new life if nurtured.

by Louisa Elderton

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Julien Ceccaldi Kölnischer Kunstverein / Cologne

In Julien Ceccaldi’s comic Solito, published to accompany his solo institutional debut at Kölnischer Kunstverein, an androgynous thirty-year-old, jobless and stagnating at home, ejaculates, in a penetrative fantasy, on their doll-cum-confidante, Marie-Claude. Rats gnaw the doll’s face while Solito drifts to sleep. Miraculously, this reveals a door to an Elysium of candy meadows and strawberry milk rivers. Here, the virgin Solito slides into a hazy love triangle with Marie-Claude and a hulky, sensitive cadaver named Oscar. Like all arrangements based on unobtainable projections, it ends achingly.

Ceccaldi’s an intrepid chronicler of the isolations of unrequited desire. While his comics, with their deft, sensitive lenses upon the injustices of gender and identity, teeter along pleasingly humorous arcs, his artistic installations, of which this exhibition comprises the most ambitious to date, eschew narrative. They share Roland Barthes’s understanding of the discomposing and histrionic nature of love’s discourse: his intuition that, in love’s agonizing phantasmagoria, “the end, like my own death, belongs to others.” Across three floors, the artist extracted and exaggerated scenes from the print publication, as if yearning his characters into the real world, or seeing them in every surface. Works on canvas, utilizing the cel technique of traditional hand-drawn animation, floated intricate illustrations over pastel backgrounds, though I wondered if they’d gain depth through more catalytic layering. Murals developed a logic of, ahem, misery-en-scène, gestural brushstrokes evoking a vulnerability that bled into the gallery through readymade props. Affect was enhanced when artworks overlapped. In one constellation, framed ink drawings hung over a mural depicting a sickly, pining Solito. In front, an expressively torqued sculpture of a wigged, wood-stained corpse gazed skyward, like an anatomical skeleton moonlighting within a Bernini altarpiece.

Solito acknowledges diverse influences, from drag to the mangas of Kunihiko Ikuhara and Riyoko Ikeda, blending these into an affirmatively strange vision of the languorous subject. Its psychological debt is to Hans Christian Andersen, referencing The Little Match Girl (alongside other fairy tales like E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker), and Andersen’s vivid diaristic accounts of masturbation.. Stained cartoons on large PVC sheets filled the Kunstverein’s windows, blocking the Cologne cityscape while broadcasting Ceccaldi’s wicked compositions streetward. Capturing the psychic split between interiority and exteriority, these showed the disreality of queer life in a heteropatriarchal world.

by Harry Burke

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G.B. Jones Cooper Cole / Toronto

Black spray paint collects gorgeously on the wall, constituting the curvaceous outline of an Ionic column. Reappearing throughout the basement and mezzanine galleries, these architectural interventions mark G.B. Jones’s first exhibition in her home city in over a decade.

The image references her legendary post-punk band Fifth Column (1981–2002), and helps trace a line from her work during the band’s era, which includes films, zines, and music, to her ongoing and equally formidable body of drawings, the best known of which is the “Tom Girls” series. In the latter, Tom of Finland’s iconic muscular men are replaced by a world of women, reproduced with the same taut lines and shading style to capture voluptuous details of bodies foregrounded against detailed cruising sites. In her new series of modestly scaled graphite-on-paper drawings, the lines are much looser and yet their subjects remain louche: a gathering of real and fictional witches.

The exhibition title, “What’s Next is Close at Hand,” evokes the latent threat of an inevitable fate, and can be traced to the text scrawled beneath Jones’s portrait of Barbara Steele, recognizable for her roles as a witch in such Italian horror films as The Long Hair of Death (1964). Her cutting eyes look to our left, and amid the shading on her shoulder a faint coffee stain can be seen. The mark suggests a working routine that doesn’t separate art and life, where any casual surface can become a studio.

G.B. Jones Barbara Steele as Mary from "The Long Hair of Death", 2017
G.B. Jones, Barbara Steele as Mary from “The Long Hair of Death,” 2017. Courtesy of G.B. Jones and Cooper Cole, Toronto

Although Jones sketches both Sybil Leek and Kim Novak as Gillian Holroyd from the film Bell, Book and Candle (1958) alongside animal companions (a perched bird and an embraced cat, respectively), the rest of the subjects are striking for their sangfroid and solitary stance. The one significant exception is the drawing of Eleanor “Ray” Bone, the British Wiccan. Brandishing a sword in her right hand and with her left-hand index finger extended, these two points frame her skyward gaze. Seven figures emerge from behind deep vertical lines that shade the space around her. Their features are muted, their names unknown. Like the infiltrative strategy after which Jones’s band was named, they too are columns: poised to maintain a struggle out of the spotlight, all in the name of support for one another and strategies of subterfuge yet to come.

by Jacob Korczynski

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