Critics’ Picks

Still from Leila Hekmat, Crocopazzo!, 2020, single-channel video, dimensions variable, 1 hour 20 minutes.

Still from Leila Hekmat, Crocopazzo!, 2020, single-channel video, dimensions variable, 1 hour 20 minutes.

Berlin

Leila Hekmat

Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie
Schöneberger Ufer 61
March 3–July 4, 2020

If looking at art these days requires a certain repudiation of the body, casually perusing galleries while protecting others from droplets of your saliva and mucus, then thank goodness for Leila Hekmat’s Crocopazzo!, which fully embraces a sociality of leaking, bloated, sundered corporeality. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a video recording of a play written by Hekmat and filmed in the gallery itself. Its narrative functions as if the work were a talk show–cum-cabaret, whose cast of wigged libertines and honky-tonk banter read as a collaboration between Annie Oakley and the Marquis de Sade. A series of interviews and musical numbers unfold between the unnamed host (a stalwart M. J. Harper) and the various progeny of Mother, a matriarch who is more lifestyle guru than caretaker. Mother’s daughters, costumed with no regard to gender, are all held captive by embodiment: one has been constipated for months, another is terrified of vomit yet throws up at the sound of her own voice, and as yet another, lubricious sister puts it, “I can’t help it if all my holes are constantly quivering.” When Mother—captivatingly played by the work’s dramaturg and composer Roman Ole—finally appears, she outlines a social philosophy of generalized abjection: “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is 100 percent.” The proceedings reach their inevitable end in an orgiastic, sharpshooting murder-suicide at the hands of Mother.

Hekmat’s shrewdest gesture is to constantly refract the play’s spectatorship. The host seems to address viewers directly through the camera, yet in one moment, previously unseen characters from a live audience join the fray. Moreover, the film finds its reaction shots in the grotesque faces of montaged figures printed on the backdrop curtain—which is also in the actual gallery itself. In a separate room, Hekmat has fashioned ghoulish depictions of Crocopazzo!’s characters through found mannequins decked out in elaborate wigs, bonnets, outfits, and masks. The play’s audio is piped into this additional arena (which is, curiously, the best place to take in the drama, given the video’s regrettable acoustics in its designated walled-in room). The spectator is thus constantly “on set” and interpolated into the cast, part of history’s diseased theater.