Critics’ Picks

  • View of “Patty Chang: Milk Debt,” 2021.

    View of “Patty Chang: Milk Debt,” 2021.

    New York

    Patty Chang

    Pioneer Works
    159 Pioneer Street
    March 19–May 23, 2021

    Perhaps our ability to be consumed by fears that are, all at once, deeply felt, minute, planetary, violent, and occasionally absurd is what genuinely separates us Homo sapiens from other species. And few artworks possess the ability to reflect this aggregation of terror as poignantly and forcefully as Patty Chang’s ongoing, multichannel video installation, Milk Debt, 2018–. In this work, the artist compiled a list of anxieties from a diverse group of women and turned them into a script for female actors to recite on camera while pumping breast milk. The performers discuss a range of worries in several languages from a variety of settings, such as the protest-filled streets of Hong Kong, crowded subway cars, and living rooms framed by Zoom. As these monologues unfold, a series of slow-scrolling sans serif texts, presented on multiple screens and projected onto different walls of the gallery space, surround the viewer with more inventories of fright and alarm.

    Humbling, healing, cathartic, overwhelming—Milk Debt grew from a four-page list Chang created when she moved to Los Angeles from New York as she was experiencing intense unease over climate change. Part of the work’s success comes from how seamlessly the catalogue of distress shifts between the public and private, the specific and general, the banal and the truly horrifying. Among the things we hear these women mention: “a binary perspective,” “bad dreams,” “white men who have lived in Asia,” “having to kill someone with their bare hands,” “labels on fruit,” “saying stupid white lady shit,” and “incessant heavy rain.”

    According to the show’s press release, Chang titled the installation after “a tenet in Chinese Buddhism, which states payments must be made toward a mother’s afterlife for years of her life-giving breast milk.” This expansive work, fearless in its vulnerability, offers up a powerful feminist vision of empathy and kinship. But more importantly, it gives us a sense of what we owe those who loved and nurtured us into existence.

  • Josephine Pryde, Cabinets (Six), 2019/2021, C-print, 15 x 10". From the series “Cabinets, [One–Nine],” 2019/21.

    Josephine Pryde, Cabinets (Six), 2019/2021, C-print, 15 x 10". From the series “Cabinets, [One–Nine],” 2019/21.

    New York

    Josephine Pryde

    31-45 37th St. Suite #G
    March 20–May 9, 2021

    Josephine Pryde makes hard images. In this show, Pryde revisited her 2005 commission for the first issue of Hard Mag, for which its publisher, Dan Mitchell, asked her to contribute photographs of shopping articulating “frustration, pain, humiliation, difficulty, failure, paranoia, [and] low self worth.” For the assignment, Pryde began taking sea creatures, presumably dead, into changing rooms of various chain clothing retailers and photographing them with her Yashica T4 (the same point-and-shoot analog camera used by Terry Richardson). In Cubicles Hard Mag Fenwicks (One), 2005, the only piece from the original series included here, an embryonic squid perches listlessly atop a patch of red fabric and what might be some Topshop denim. For the series “Cabinets, [One–Nine],” 2019/21, we see an octopus’s tentacles gather gently in the sink of an airplane bathroom and, in another picture, adhere to a toilet-paper holder. Folded on a white cloth and placed on the gallery floor, The Flight That Moved Them, 2021, holds a hidden photograph; roughly conforming to the dimensions of the Astoria space, the piece will be unfurled as the show progresses.

    Pryde is attuned to how our egos are shaped by embodied encounters. Sometimes, we manage to escape while trying on a new hat at Zara or to find refuge in a public bathroom. At other times, faced with our reflection in a poorly lit fitting-room mirror, we are left only with our wounded selves and must aim again for repair—try on something else, maybe, or take one more photo. Pryde infuses the sterile atmosphere of commodity and fashion photography with a visceral edge of confinement, abandonment, and permeability. Perhaps this is what Luce Irigaray meant when she said, “Femininity consists essentially in laying the dead man back in the womb of the earth, and giving him eternal life.” Her airless yet seductive tableaux of surfaces and skin express the desire for both contact and release.