Critics’ Picks

View of “Terre Thaemlitz,” 2017.

View of “Terre Thaemlitz,” 2017.


Terre Thaemlitz

Auto Italia
44 Bonner Road
October 3–December 3, 2017

Stepping into the darkness of trans artist Terre Thaemlitz’s electroacoustic audio-video installation here, Interstices, 2000–03, one hears a calm and assertive voice describing a dick slowly penetrating someone’s butt. With each inch, we hear the bottom loudly grunt with pain and pleasure while the screen moans through rapid bursts of light. The visual absence of flesh in this moment demands a certain level of erotic imagination.

The looped eighteen-minute video repurposes music, text, and images from her 2000 album of the same title. Via techniques of framing and “systolic composition” (creating new material by means of extracting and isolating peripheral sounds), Thaemlitz meshes process and content. The result is a powerful work that addresses gender reassignment, identity production, and sexual labor.

In the video, we also see a tomboyish girl, Wendy, receive a full makeover on a TV talk show; we hear a panel of speakers discuss the effects of surgical procedures to “correct” the sexes of children; and we read about phalloplasty, mastectomy, hormones, and mental health. In a particularly memorable sequence, the camera zooms in on the shadow of someone deep-throating an erect cock against a sunset-pink background as choppy electrical noises climax with a comfortingly romantic melody. The cock is static, its veins unaffected, and it seems more like firm silicone than an engorged dick. Focusing solely on the one giving head, the scene arouses a desire for the synthetic. It places the dildo, divorced from gender, as an instrument of gratification for any kind of body.