27 Orchard Street
February 5 - March 5
In the back room of Sophie Hirsch’s current show is Reformer, 2017, a plaster arrow riding an industrial-looking body-shaping machine. The sculpture faces itself in a pair of mirrors, recalling a Pilates studio with its BDSM-like balance of pleasure and torture. Joseph Pilates considered Contrology, his tension-and-relief method, the only route to bliss. Martha Graham and George Balanchine swore by it. If her work is any indication, Hirsch does too.
The artist approaches quick-drying materials such as plaster and silicone with an interest in posture, gravity, and compromise between flexibility and resistance. Studio props such as straps and blocks give constraints to Hirsch’s floppy bodies, which would otherwise collapse under their own weight. Bending, folding, twisting—the abstract sculptures read as instructional diagrams. Her series of shadowbox works, “Muscle Test 1–5,” 2016, strengthens this allusion.
While at first her concerns feel largely formal and materialistic, they are not what one leaves with. Hirsch’s work brings oppositional forces together to create new equilibriums, whether it be a hard-edge feminine aesthetic or a wall-mounted sculpture that begs to be called a painting. Rather than going outside for inspiration and depth, the exhibition’s bodily overtones demand inward expansion. Starting with the figure and working outward, the show feels like a rally for enlightened navel-gazing. Hirsch encourages not only self-awareness but excavation. Her sculptures seem to ask, How can we extend ourselves safely? How can we be bridges?