Kristin Smallwood

american medium
515 W. 20th St., 3N
August 11, 2016–September 4, 2016

View of “Kristin Smallwood: IUD,” 2016.

The floor of Kristin Smallwood’s busy multimedia exhibition “IUD” is papered with clippings from straight porn magazines and women ripped from fashion glossies. She sneaks some photographs of herself into the messy X-rated collage, too. These images are decidedly glum—mug shots, not beaver shots. Smallwood merges the genres, sort of, in a video that loops on a small wall-mounted monitor. The Perfect Woman (all works 2016) shows the artist in close-up lip-synching, deadpan, to Whitney Houston’s soaring 1992 ballad “I Will Always Love You,” her face transformed by the ingenious superimposition of a vagina. The artist’s nose, replaced by a clitoris, becomes a stretchy beak; her mouth ghoulishly misaligns with the opening of the so-called birth canal.

Birth control is a theme here. Throughout, Smallwood plays with the iconographic qualities of the T-shaped copper-coiled intrauterine device—it’s totally phallic and almost a crucifix. Baby Mobile, a delicate kinetic sculpture, incorporates IUDs and wire hangers, conjuring pregnancy’s prevention as well as a horrific manner of its termination. The mostly bubble-gum pink painting Deity of Infertility 1 shows a horse with the device protruding from its body like an erection. There’s another horse on view, a stuffed toy hanging from a fuchsia noose, with dildos emerging from the ends of its legs. Perverse but still cute, the customized toy also appears in the video I Thought We Were Adults. It comforts Smallwood, distraught on a bed, dressed in baby-themed fetish wear (pigtails, thigh-highs, and a lingerie-onesie hybrid). The piece’s audio is a clandestinely recorded break-up discussion in which the artist’s abject “other woman” status is painfully spelled-out by a male voice. Using the discomfiting depiction of her own failure—as a romantic/pornographic object, as a reproductive vessel—for a springboard, Smallwood finds fertile terrain in sarcastic absurdism and fantastical sexual counter-imagery.

— Johanna Fateman