Critics’ Picks

Patty Chang, Configurations (Bread), 2017, ink-jet print, 28 x 40''.

Patty Chang, Configurations (Bread), 2017, ink-jet print, 28 x 40''.

New York

Patty Chang

Queens Museum
New York City Building Flushing Meadows
September 17, 2017–February 18, 2018

For more than twenty years, Patty Chang has consistently put her body on the line. From her early Riot Grrrl–tinged performances and videos to her later filmic investigations, she’s always been in her work, and not just via some dreary collapse of art and everyday life. I mean, in it—exposed but viscerally aware of her vulnerability. This ethics infuses her output with a buoyancy, even while she throws anchors into deep, murky waters. It’s certainly the case in her current retrospective, which weaves together various pieces from her epic eight-year multimedia project, The Wandering Lake, 2009–17, a meditation on the death of her father, raising her young son, and her travels to disparate parts of the globe, including Central Asia and Fogo Island in Canada, among other things.

Ordered and unordered liquid abjection is a theme: In the photographs from the series “Letdown (Milk),” 2017, we see the pumped breastmilk that Chang collected in found vessels while traveling around the shrinking Aral Sea. The local government had prohibited her to film there, so she documented the weaning of her child instead. In the picture Configurations (Bread), 2017, she stands somewhere along the longest aqueduct in the world (which brings water from southern to northern China, including Beijing), urinating through a hotdog bun as if it were a bespoke Shewee. Nearby is an elegantly minimal installation of thirty-two similar urinary devices, each mimicking plastic bottles in exquisite blown glass, complete with caps and labels—some of which were collected from the same region. The liquid that sustains us and that we purge are contrasted, then transformed into a sinuous metaphor on the sociopolitical regulation of bodies—of humans and of waters.