Review /

Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan Queer Thoughts / New York

Gay representation exists in a slippery space between liberation and domination, solidarity and violence, of both socioeconomic and interpersonal dimension. The ambivalent localization of violence within gay sociality — both aimed toward it and coming from within it — serves as the subtle thematic framework for the artist duo Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan’s most recent show at Queer Thoughts.

A series of carefully executed pencil works on paper depict imagined scenes of intimate queer sociality: a group of beefy, gender-opaque characters, rendered in a stylized “gay hand” somewhere between lesbian comic books and Tom of Finland, are seen drinking, laughing, and making out in sparsely furnished rooms, desire omnipresent in their poses, gestures, and gazes. Hogarthian in both form and spirit, these charged scenes of conviviality nonetheless feel on the cusp of some kind of impending unhinging; desire transformed into rivalry, into conflict.

Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan, Gaby, 2018
Rosie Hastings and Hannah Quinlan, Gaby, 2018. Courtesy of the artists and Queer Thoughts, New York.

Bracketed by the drawings is the video work Gaby (2018), consisting of three short vignettes that each address the interweaved connections between gay culture and wider systems of violence. The first vignette tells the story of their best friend Gaby, who as an eighteen year old briefly dated a straight-presenting gay cop. In naïve first-person PowerPoint form, Gaby recounts how he romantically engaged and navigated his partner’s persistent self-guilt and self-masking, which in the process reproduced homophobia onto Gaby himself (the fatal ending of their relationship ultimately loops back as the title for the show’s body of drawings, “We Haven’t Spoken Since,” all 2018).

Directly following this is a vignette compiling found video footage of police officers at pride marches momentarily sidestepping their law-enforcing duties and breaking out in fits of badly simulated twerking and voguing. These harrowing scenes are only furthered by their shared soundtrack, Village People’s 1974 hit “Y.M.C.A,” which served as the definitive anthem of the post-Stonewall era of sexual liberation in New York’s West Village — which, in turn, triggered the neighborhood’s rapid sanitization and gentrification. This is marked by Hastings and Quinlan in a video with a rendered issue of Christopher Street Magazine from 1977, in which an article boasts the gentrifying powers of the gay, male, white middle-class (serving to “clean up” impoverished, undesirable urban areas).

Hastings and Quinlan’s succinct examination of gay representation brings its viewer from macro- to micro-political scales of space, intimacy, and desire, and carefully deciphers the troublesome history of gay politics that must still be articulated today.

by Jeppe Ugelvig

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Magali Reus / South London Gallery

With Magali Reus, use-value circulates in a deep recess. In “As Mist, Description,” repressed utility is massaged to the surface; with smooth repose these assemblies offer augmented darts of mythic function. Previously on show at Bergen Kunsthall, the exhibition includes the “Hwael” series (2017); Old Saxon for whale, the three variants resemble a disarticulated carcass, yet the remains suggest a more mechanical constitution.

Analogous to “the skeletal framework of the public bus,” as the press release suggests, the “Hwael” also invoke water, situated around curving white plastered walls engraved with numbers to measure the water level from a ship’s hull. The desiccated steel structures seem to display a termination of singularity, appearing as an instrument once suited for strange economic development as well as a reserve for the imagination.

Framed as vessels for memory, objects can embody a supporting role for the mind. Yet Reus inverses the relation, creating objects and structures that intimate for themselves any manner of psychological and emotive qualities independent of our own feelings for them. As elaborate scaling instruments, the “Hwael” appear to demand preservation, their frameworks trimmed with incisor-like thorns; hung carapaces are adorned with autographs or wood veneer marquetry: a cross between backpacks and domestic boiler tanks. Cryptic ornamentation evolves: glyphs and graphemes proliferate; sketchy embroideries snake down straps that trail to the floor; lemon, aubergine, and white weights restore some innate balance; a plaque features a hand holding an egg to the sky; sulfurous doorknobs host teal signage; a molten trainer resides inside one carapace chamber. Indicating customization and conservation, they hint at the object-as-souvenir, the possessive aesthetics of personalization, and the symbols of repair manuals. Elements suggestive of personal possession imply the conventions of externalizing selfhood that, when addressed to objects, serve as vain attempts to domesticate the beast. Disentangled from anthropocentrism, ornament appears elemental to the object. Their excess is intrinsic.

The “Hwael” works communicate a masculinity that distinguishes itself as pure projective force. In this sense they invoke the structure of seduction itself, belonging to the order of artifice, ritual, and signs; seduction eliminates discipline that aims at meaning and finality. Seduction is the puckered envelope but never its content. The “Hwael,” then, demonstrate speculation.

Reus often produces in series, and this repetition with difference reinforces the possibility of an object’s lineage. The “Sentinel” series (2017) demonstrates the need for seasonal maintenance. Reminiscent of fire hoses, each “Sentinel” features a length of embroidered cotton webbing, each with a small plaque depicting a different matchbox design similar to Norwegian Nitedals. Cross-punched tickets are attached, indicating a monthly performance check.

Reus is adept at demonstrating the impression that objects reserve ontology of their own. Each sculpture is rendered to acute specification, becoming an emblem of bountiful and mutable industry in materials such as aluminum, resin, cotton, felt, and Jesmonite. Ultimately, one might consider this entire space an arena. From the matte chocolate industrial floor, the embroideries of gymnasium floor plans, to the wooden scoreboards and athlete’s autographs, competition is prevalent. Exquisite and exploitative, industrial production is a complex sport. It is an exercise in which audiences and users are made habitually codependent on silent devices and invisible systems; we may only harness a sense of control by servicing them, by crossing each box.

by Alex Bennett

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Geometries Agricultural University / Athens

For a city not known for its green spaces, Athens is in fact blessed with unassuming archaic parkland in its center, is surrounded by forest on three sides (it is enclosed by the sea on its fourth), and offers scattered pockets of green throughout the city. One of these oases is the Agricultural University, boasting sixty acres of campus, and which for the next three months plays host to “Geometries,” an ambitious group exhibition coordinated by locus athens and the Onassis Cultural Centre.

Alongside the University’s vineyard, aquaculture laboratory, and compost unit lies the Museum of Agriculture, in which the majority of the exhibition is housed. Guided by the overarching theme of the environment and man’s relationship to it, the selected works draw from the oeuvres of modern and contemporary Greek artists, established artists from abroad, and other emerging creators. Arranged among the existing informative assemblages of floral cuttings and utilitarian artifacts are works such as Thanassis Totsikas’s untitled layout of dozens of curious handmade blades and scythes (2018), and the cryptic Abstract Painting (c. 1970) by Angelos N. Goulandris, co-founder of the Goulandris Natural History Museum, which places enticing black circles within a tangle of colorful connecting lines.

Networks, groupings, and series align the works in this exhibition. Federico Herrero’s thirty-three monotypes titled Body Geometry (2018), with their progressions of overlaid color blocks and organic curves, present a straightforward but effective discourse on our movement through the natural world; a single photograph by Yto Barrada, La Serviette Rose (2009), provides a more mysterious glance into this dialogue, depicting a figure seated in a garden alongside a pink towel, a site from which, perhaps, the photographer has risen to snatch a memory of our fleeting and finite relationship with the green; and Paky Vlassopoulou’s collection of ceramics suspended from steel frames by lengths of cabling seems, in its precarity, to reflect on man’s use and misuse of natural resources.

Other works more directly discuss the Museum’s own surroundings and archive. Natasa Biza’s For all Party Occasions: Object Lessons (2018) displays photographs of a number of cooking utensils sent to Greece “for unknown reasons” (reads the wall text) as part of the Marshall Plan, and for many years stored at the Museum. A neighboring architecture practice, Kassandras, have constructed and installed a sound studio within the main university building, A Knee on the Ground (2018), which will host local contributors to utilize it as they please, encouraging further networked interpretations of one’s surroundings.

Reactivating the venue for many Athenians, most of whom would not have had much reason to visit the University otherwise, is in itself a great success of the exhibition. But significantly the works themselves consistently articulate a message of skepticism and environmental awareness, enhancing and enhanced by their surroundings.

by Andrew Spyrou

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Brandon Ndife Shoot the Lobster / New York

Brandon Ndife’s current solo show at Shoot The Lobster, “Ties That Bind,” looks a little like a tar pit and has the distinct air of a crypt. Across four sculptures, mud, gourds, and anthropomorphic relics unravel in an oily muck that could have been dug up from a hundred feet underground. The world, in all of its mutating protocols and contradicting processes, is not mythical or speculative but present and in disarray, caught in a moment of eerily creeping petrification.

Ndife’s exhibition text situates this evocative array of materials among contemporary conversations about the “entanglement” of myriad life forms, which highlight the interdependencies between people, plants, animals, bacteria, and nonliving entities such as rocks and minerals. As Sylvia Wynter, Che Gossett, and others have argued, most conceptions of entanglement treat the Human as a fixed and universal category instead of one constructed by transatlantic slavery and still actively contested in political, scientific, and legal spheres. The show is striking for the ways it uses assemblage and superimposition to foreground the fact that the categories of “object,” “subject,” and “Human” are defined by (anti-)Blackness.

Brandon C Ndife, The Gleaner, 2018
Brandon C Ndife, The Gleaner, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Shoot The Lobster, New York.

The Gleaner (all works 2018) fuses a hoodie and steel piping with something resembling a resin sea anemone. Cast in hydrocal, the sweatshirt’s folds are half glistening metal bust, half slime ASMR; Ndife hints at the symbiotic dependence of autonomous  life forms by soldering them together. Meanwhile, Globetrotter suggests the multi-century accumulation of a dismembered corpse, bound together by winter oyster mushrooms, reeds, dirt, and scraps of wood. The title recalls both the Harlem Globetrotters and Blackness as global commodity. By staging a more nuanced examination of interspecies cohabitation over vast time scales, Ndife’s work reminds us that abolishing the Human would require destroying anti-Blackness, and that this shared imperative is what truly sets the parameters of entanglement.

Instead of creating from the position of “Human,” which, Frank Wilderson writes, Black people have been denied, Ndife’s works come from a negation of positionality that Wilderson calls “objective vertigo,” namely, “a life constituted by disorientation rather than a life interrupted by disorientation.”1 Native to… evokes this vertigo with its aleatory internal logic and tilted positioning in the gallery, resembling two  tables thrown on their sides. The viewer is compelled to peer over foam mannequin-like heads, a partly submerged bone, and a painted wooden surface, creating a sensation of groundlessness in the face of sedimented flotsam held together mid-fall.

by Charlie Markbreiter and Alexander Iadarola

  1. www.yorku.ca/intent/issue5/articles/frankbwildersoniii.php
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Robert Colescott Blum & Poe / Los Angeles

In a politically correct culture, it’s liberating and unnerving to step into Robert Colescott’s exhibition at Blum and Poe, where the late painter revels in representations of stereotypes. As an African American growing up in 1930s Oakland, popular black tropes of the time period are a mainstay in the artist’s paintings, but he doesn’t stop at black stereotypes; risqué depictions of gender issues, sexuality, race, economics, and politics abound. Colescott once described the experience of looking at one of his pieces as “a pleasure” at first, and then it’s “a problem.”

The pleasure comes forth through the artist’s skillful painterly touch, Ken Price-y color palate, and flair for comic figuration. However, the satirical read in many of the works is where problems arise. Most of the works involve only one black character, and as that character’s role interchanges throughout, we see Colescott musing on various power dynamics. In Peeping Tom (1973), a white woman stands in feigned horror in a sheer lingerie top and curlers. A black man looks on from outside through the curtains, palms pressed to the window. His “Jughead” crown and downturned lips, painted as in blackface, oddly give the perpetrator a sense of innocence. A text at the top of the painting reads, “He was drawn to the lighted window like a moth to a flame.” By equating this curious simpleton to a moth, Colescott usurps him of agency, even as he stares on at his pantless muse.

The mood changes slightly in the next gallery, which hosts a selection from the “Bathers’ Pool” series (1984–1986). With an underlayer of deep red paint, Colescott loosens his grip and allows the glowing figures to elongate in brushy layers of acrylic. No doubt pulling from the many art historical paintings of bathers, namely Cézanne, Colescott flips the racial ratio. Where elsewhere his paintings feature one black character, at the bathing pool a single white character is usually standing vulnerably in the background, surrounded by a sea of languid black figures. The dark rocks mimic the bathers’ bodies in form and color, creating an organic merging of body and earth, while the white characters pop out awkwardly and abruptly.

Upstairs, a large selection of drawings allows for deeper insight into Colescott’s process. Many drawings are presented in duplicate, with various characters swapping race or sex in each iteration. The scantly clad French secretary suddenly becomes a fuller-bodied black woman. Our Peeping Tom becomes a strong Latino character actually climbing through the window. Colescott’s magic comes through his sly touch: like a deck of cards, he throws out a bunch of characters in a variety of roles, genders, and power positions, and leaves it to the viewer to wade through the resulting situation. Ultimately, the work calls upon centuries of inequality, and in turn reflects our own personal biases back onto ourselves. Without saying anything, Colescott’s work says everything.

by Lindsay Preston Zappas

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Ericka Beckman KW Institute for Contemporary Art / Berlin

Every Constructivist revival ought to champion children’s education as ferociously as it does primary colors. While states funnel milk money into empty suits, schools have substituted Ritalin for games, preparing students for useless, pointless jobs they will work simply to eat. If only we were characters in this life — and not players.

Three projection screens over three primary colors couch Ericka Beckman’s “Super-8 Trilogy” within the legacy of Constructivism. Their caustically terse dissatisfaction and creeping anxiety do not detract from their canny abuse of structuralist tricks. Chronologically, and from left to right, the central players in her films (contexts in which the term “character” is useless) are a schoolgirl (We Imitate; We Break Up, 1978), bachelors (The Broken Rule, 1979), and a memory-dredging boy (Out of Hand, 1980); the boy and the girl play the games of any child “enacting,” as Cally Spooner writes, “the ways in which our best-loved fictions exploit us.” Between them, two teams of bachelors relay around an umbrella clothesline. One team frantically bumbles the briefcase they pass like a baton, and relentless failure is a hinge for whatever critique’s levied in Beckman’s films: it’s funny — it’s sad — when circuits break down. We Imitate; We Break Up’s human learns diction from Mario, the legs-only marionette who threatens her on suspicion she “has the loot.” This developmental darkness kicks off the suffering in each of the other films, the aforementioned rat race and Out of Hand’s boy who, searching for a memory in the psychic interior of his childhood home, is relentlessly pelted by simple shapes and children’s toys.

Slapstick — and I would characterize the whole trilogy as such — is always the break (slap) in the face of those who can’t catch a break (who get slapped) but never break down. Constructivism and child’s games are fun, but they are not funny (sad) like this. A society that discards play teaches its workers only hyperactive boredom. In other words, slapstick: a short-circuit that keeps working, like 1970s stagflation and today’s manic graduate.

by Oscar Phaland

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