This past Friday saw the opening of “Splay,” curated by Marissa Perel, a performance artist and curator. Representing artists from around the world and comprised of installations and two performances (by Steven Frost and Syniva Whitney) “Splay” gestures towards contemporary standards of eroticism and the state of the erotic as a reflexive component in the construction of self. Perel hopes to “open up a dialogue about the place of real pleasure within the manifold real and imagined identification of sexual identity.”
Ivan Lozano. An Andachtsbilder (prying perception open). 2011. Mixed media. Image courtesy of Ivan Lozano.
Artists constructed artifacts that seem to act as both traces of that fleeting moment of ecstasy, as well as metaphorical propositions for the locus of ecstasy and identity. Ivan Lozano’s sculpture, An Andachtsbilder (prying perception open), takes an image of anal penetration and constructs a sacred space around it, protecting it, entering it into the realm of the unreal and sublime. Andachtsbilder are traditionally used by Catholics to contemplate the divine and is literally translated from the German as “thought (directed towards/about) images.” Lozano focuses on the sublime and ethereal while representing the profane, thereby establishing a queer locus of devotion.
La petite mort (little death), long an idiom for the orgasm, seems to only describe a few of the pieces in this show. One being Elise Goldstein’s Love Letter Written from a Burning Building. Here, a series of twenty-four “cum rags” are tacked to the wall, each with a hand written phrase that entered the mind of the artist upon masturbatory culmination. Most are lonesome articulations like “I am so alone.” Next to the line of rags, latex gloves are available for use by patrons to encounter the rags with safety, while also providing a commentary on a post-HIV sexual culture that remains vibrant though sheathed in latex. Goldstein’s loneliness in the act of masturbation is only reinforced by the inability of the viewer to directly encounter the remnants of her ecstasy.
In the middle of the gallery space sits a large drum. A vibrator called an egg hangs, rattling the surface of the drum in concentric circles like a slow build that never comes to fruition. Frustration is called into the mix by Fritz Welch’s Conquer death, down with that stupid hair, 2011. The droning build-up is forever frustrated by the lack of a subject.
Rachel Lowther. Mammals. 1999. Image courtesy of Rachel Lowther.
In the corner of the gallery, a collage of ripped photos, reconnected with blue painter’s tape are attached to the wall in an ordered grid. Mammals, 1999, by Rachel Lowther, speaks to the fragmentation and ordered chaos of sexuality. Fetish is, after all, an attempt by the individual to understand and conquer the unknown of the erotic. By placing constraints and conventions upon such a righteous upheaval as sexual experience, the fragmentation and dissolution experienced in the moment of ecstasy can be, paradoxically, magnified and couched within norms that activate the “largest erogenous zone” — the mind.
Yasi Ghanbari. Dreams. 2011. Image courtesy of Yasi Ghanbari.
Yasi Ghanbari’s piece, Dreams, 2011, combines a screenprint of overlaid letters that spell “Freud” over and over again, with a projector flicking through pictures of actors' headshots who have played Sigmund Freud in film and television. More than homage to the father of psychoanalysis, the field that originated contemporary sexual discourse, Dreams speaks to the representation of sexual understanding in our society and calls forth the tumultuous acceptance and rejection of psychoanalysis as a science. In Carl Jung’s forward to his book, Freud and Psychoanalysis, he addresses the skeptics of the time with a prophetic quote from Faust:
Preposterous! You still intend to stay?
Vanish at once! You’ve been explained away.
Yet, Ghanbari’s piece reminds us, as do so many others in “Splay” that psychoanalysis, while diminished under the gaze of neuroscience, still holds sway over our metaphorical and discursive understanding of sexuality. Like the story about a boy who would be king and killed his father and laid with his mother before blinding himself out of grief, the “autonomic nervous system” just doesn’t stir the loins, it has much deeper implications. Sexuality, due to a societal need to sublimate and reduce its appearance in everyday life (i.e. morality) while at the same time making reminders of sexuality omnipresent (i.e. advertising), must be approached through second-hand gesticulations and aphoristic reaches. The artists in “Splay” indeed explore, to the best of society’s ability, new possibilities in sexual representation.
-Joel Kuennen, ArtSlant Staff Writer