Patricia L. Boyd works in various media, including photography and film. Each new work is executed according to a formula conceived in response to a sociopolitical situation. Nothing, however, is reducible to any obvious logic. An earlier video (Carl dis/ assembling w/ self, 2013) was made by giving a camera to a mechanic and asking him to take apart an engine using one hand while filming himself with the other. The outcome is a jolting portrait of strained efficiency, resembling a verité remake of Richard Serra’s Hand Catching Lead, 1968.
In this new show, evidence of the work’s making appears as creases in the four large-scale photograms she has mounted on the gallery walls. They were made by briefly exposing large sheets of photographic paper while pressing them up against the gallery’s shop-front windows, onto which short phrases—as in La Peuple! and Le Bourgeois French & Mediterranean, both 2017—have been applied in a vintage font and highlighted by a scalloped pattern. The results, cut up and reassembled, suggest an old black-and-white credits sequence. Blurring and tonal modulation caused by the movements of the unwieldy sheets and their varied exposure to the outside streetlight heighten their resemblance to stills from a cheap, murky exploitation film.
The fragments of text play with the name of the gallery, formerly a restaurant also called Le Bourgeois. The restaurant lost its license after neighbors accused the regulars of fighting, fucking, and defecating on the pavement outside.
In 1992, Silverfish’s Lesley Rankine snarled the mantra that would launch a thousand T-shirts: HIPS. TITS. LIPS. POWER. The slogan took the carving up of female flesh and reversed it into a roll call for the reservoirs of strength built into a woman’s body.
Tschabalala Self’s portraits perform a similar inversion, defying dominant tropes in popular representations of the black female body. They do this by dismantling those same bodies and reassembling them in ways that transform their perceived vulnerability into blistering inviolability. Self’s “paintings” (as the artist chooses to refer to her fabric-based mixed-media collages) are directly informed by her experience with printmaking. Each body is built bit by bit, its curves formed by swatches of patterned fabrics, animal prints, or Calvin Klein denim, while additional details are stamped onto the surface using nontraditional materials such as radiator grills or synthetic hair. Self’s figures take up the familiar postures of social-media selfies and escort ads, only with a frankness that decries coquetry. As with Rankine’s winning lyric, body parts are isolated, amplified, and reconstituted as an army of swooning calves, nipples like ten-gallon hats, and pussies like peach pits amid voluptuous hips. Blending the grotesqueries of Hans Bellmer’s poupées with the cool self-possession of Mickalene Thomas’s portraits, these distortions register not so much as if violence has been inflicted on the body, mangling its contours, but rather as if the body were ballooning into its desired proportions. As this survey demonstrates, there is more than one way to leave an impression.
In a video, a black sack covers the head of a naked body. The body is filmed in front of a green screen—much like the nonspace of detention environments. This hooded figure reappears in the second part of the film in a montage of aerial shots, onto which a striking poem is superimposed, describing an encounter with a security officer at a London airport. This is Imran Perretta’s single-channel video brother to brother, 2017, which explores the relationship between unmitigated state violence and border surveillance. Shortly after I watched this piece, Donald Trump imposed his ban on Muslims, which caused hundreds of people to be detained at airports across the United States.
Alongside Perretta are works by Anna Bunting-Branch and the duo Ben Burgis & Ksenia Pedan. In a critique of both rent inflation and the untenable pace of capitalism, Burgis & Pedan have installed Victoria Deepwater Terminal Estate Gallery, 2017, a “luxury two bedroom sewer conversion.” An Aarnio-style bubble chair, an emblem of modernist design, hangs from a steel staircase near a fire escape—such a thoughtful way of gussying up a thoroughfare for human waste.
Bunting-Branch has produced a number of works under the title “The Labours of Barren House.” Two mixed-media sculptures of body parts—five enormous fingers (Fingerspell [G.L.A.M.O.U.R]) and a fleshy mouth (Mother Tongue), both 2016, sit near the artist’s video The Linguists, 2017, which addresses Láadan, a feminist language invented by writer Suzette Haden Elgin for her science-fiction trilogy Native Tongue (1984–94). The video contains imagery and descriptions of witchcraft, séances—activities and realms that typically connote femininity. Bunting-Branch offers a powerful and intriguing way of experiencing the world by reconfiguring methods of communication and resistance—necessary in these deeply troubling times.
The years 1966 to 1970, which formed and devastated much of a generation, marked a definitive cultural break during the postwar period in Europe and the United States. The widespread counterculture movement that united London and San Francisco generated a revolution in music, graphic design, fashion, and social behavior. In a lively, multifaceted setting, there was youthful rebellion, lots of great recreational drugs, sexual freedom, feminism, underground publications, anti–Vietnam War protests, the Monterey Pop Festival, and Woodstock.
This exhibition deftly illustrates those five years, without nostalgia, to reconstruct an exemplary historical path via album covers, musical instruments, costumes, song lyrics, books, posters, comics; a spacesuit worn by astronaut William Anders, who orbited the moon; outfits worn by the Beatles, a copy of Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung (1964), and dresses by designers such as Mary Quant and Foale and Tuffin, originally modeled by Twiggy. An extraordinary sound track accompanies the show as well, overwhelming visitors with music that is not only sonorously exceptional but in its time expressed a desire to dismantle mainstream thinking. Everything was consumed quickly, as pop always is, but it was nourishing, replete. And the legacy of that era—aesthetically, politically, poetically—is still fascinating and influential.
But then reality intervened, smashing everything. I saw the show in London the day after Donald Trump won the election. I was dealt a cruel blow in the last room of the exhibition, where the now-iconic Woodstock festival was projected, diorama-like, onto three walls. The gallery space was completely full, with people of all ages. I entered while Jimi Hendrix was playing the “Star-Spangled Banner”—everyone was crying. Hendrix’s distorted rendition, and my wistfulness for this bygone age, concretized something quite terrible for our collective future.
Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.
Like a nightmarish excrescence, an eight-foot-high oak chest of drawers, with twenty-foot sides, is crammed into one half of an ornately paneled boardroom lined with carved crests and lit by a resplendent chandelier. A cluster of brass organ pipes protrudes from the top of the chest, which supports a six-legged platform for an octagonal windmill that brushes the ceiling some twenty feet up. Most bizarrely, the cabinet seems operated by levers jutting out on one side and is connected by elephantine tubes to three hooped barrels that sit on the floor.
Meticulously fabricated, Rod Dickinson’s Air Loom, 2002, is a re-creation of the paranoid vision of James Tilly Matthews, who in the early nineteenth century was a patient at Bedlam, the infamous psychiatric hospital now converted into the museum where this work currently stands. Many schizophrenics imagine that their delusions are externally manipulated. In Matthews’s case, it was French spies—determined to lead Britain into war with Napoleon—who were poisoning his mind, and those of politicians, by pumping vapors through “air looms” hidden in basements across London. In a corner of the gallery, Dickinson has installed twelve glass flasks labeled with substances including “Putrid Effluvia” and “Seminal Fluid (Male),” the base ingredients from which Matthews’s fictitious operatives concocted their pestilential recipes.
Dickinson’s installation is timely given Edward Snowden’s revelations, the sudden accusations of rigged elections, and shock referendum results. The absurd mother lode for spook fantasists and conspiracy theorists, Matthews’s contraption, brought to vivid life by Dickinson, suits a time when we might wonder anew at voters’ susceptibilities to mind control.