Critics’ Picks

View of “Descartes’ Daughter,” 2013.

New York

“Descartes’ Daughter”

Swiss Institute / CONTEMPORARY ART
102 Franklin Street (Temporary Location)
September 20 - November 3

For “Descartes’ Daughter,” curator Piper Marshall has invoked the effigy the philosopher created of his only child, Francine, following her untimely death at five years old. The binary Cartesian realms of mind and body are both conjured and complicated in this tale of Descartes’s attempt to maintain the memory of his daughter through her physical likeness. Alternating between the scientific and the emotional, “Descartes’ Daughter” evokes a transitional space that ultimately deals with dreams and desire—each piece suggesting a different way to understand empirical and subjective memory.

Physical remembrance is exemplified in John Chamberlain’s large gray foam and nylon sculpture, Untitled, 2007, which is shaped like a couch and yields slight impressions born perhaps from humans sitting. In its scale and central position, Chamberlain’s lascivious work anchors the exhibition. Melanie Gilligan’s three-part video, Self Capital, 2009, interprets financial catastrophe through an older woman’s psychic break, loquaciously gesturing at the difficulty in locating oneself within globalized culture. Amplifying this is Jason Loebs’s Anthropomemoria, 2013, which consists of five black MacBook batteries marked by fingerprints in anticounterfeit ink, effectively allocating the individual to data.

In Sergei Tcherepnin’s Stereo Ear Tone Mirrors, 2013, two small security mirrors placed on opposite ends of the gallery loop alternating dulcet and shrill sounds. Like Tcherepnin’s almost clandestine mirrors, which reflect various works in the exhibition, sections of Hanne Darboven’s drawing series “Urzeit/Uhrzeit, Fisch und Vogel, la, lb,” 1986, are strategically hung in opposite corners of the gallery. The series consists of Darboven’s accumulation of mathematics and script derived from the time she spent working each day. This data is displayed in juxtaposition to more nostalgic recordings of memory (a taxidermy bird and a fisherman’s trophy). Bouncing between taxonomic recording and sentimental valuation, Darboven’s work positions the space between the corporeal and the cognitive as that of the emotional.