Critics’ Picks

Sadaf H Nava, Puddles of Blue, 2019, colored pencil on paper, 14 x 11".

Sadaf H Nava, Puddles of Blue, 2019, colored pencil on paper, 14 x 11".

New York

Sadaf H Nava

17 Essex St
September 23–November 23, 2019

In Sadaf H Nava’s exhibition, a suite of seven modestly sized improvisational drawings hang on opposite walls of this narrow gallery—studies in porosity that scamper into the unconscious. In them, mostly women and femmes—who don ball gowns or fetishy ensembles in latex—caper between strange urban vignettes. They cram into Jacuzzi-like cylinders in Animalic (all works 2019) as two rearing mustangs arch above them, while in Puddles of Blue, composed with a hue of colored pencil that evokes lapis lazuli, water flows off of rocks and vintage umbrellas. Different kinds of fluid appear in a number of the show’s otherworldly scenes, suggesting emotional agility—or the disintegration of boundaries.

Retirement: Behind the Seam, a capacious, twenty-two-minute music video, is a tense self-portrait shot on location in some of the few prevailing public spaces in Manhattan’s storied Lower East Side, such as East River Park and the Hester Street Playground. Deconstructed is a voguish term in avant-garde music, having been pinned to a loosely codified genre of theoretically dense interpretations of rave and rap music typically circulated online. The term is operative here, too, as Nava, in the musical lineage of experimentalists like Tamio Shiraishi and Okkyung Lee, reminds us that deconstruction, like the illogic it unveils, has no end. The video brims with an erotics of excess—a sensibility that defines the artist’s multimodal practice—that, in this instance, exposes the thorny mechanics of feminized image production. Awkward dialogue (“We could go somewhere else, too. . .”) and incidental field recordings interrupt a mournful, reverberating violin as, on-screen, Nava lingers long enough to get the emphatic take. Despite, or because of, the swells of desire that precipitate everyday life, too often we waver where we are.