Critics’ Picks

Jesse Darling, with Erica Fitzgerald, Elan Schwartz, and Jackie Switzer, A Fine Line (detail), 2018/21, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Jesse Darling, with Erica Fitzgerald, Elan Schwartz, and Jackie Switzer, A Fine Line (detail), 2018/21, mixed media, dimensions variable.


“Wild Frictions: The Politics & Poetics of Interruption”

Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati
44 E. Sixth Street
April 9–September 19, 2021

As most of the more than two dozen works included in this thoughtful group show were made before the pandemic—a massive lapse in modern communication producing a shared sense of “before” and “after” between which spanned a paradigm-shifting period of social and political chaos—I found myself simultaneously imagining their meanings pre- and post-plague, an enormously rich exercise in temporal straddling that felt true to the exhibition’s prescient concern with the “politics and poetics of interruption.”

Scattered throughout the exhibition and displayed on six self-scrolling smartphones anchored to individual plinths, Constant Dullaart’s Phantom Love, 2018–21, offered preprogrammed comments, surreal and lyrical, through the Instagram accounts of various public-service institutions in Ohio (such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation). The piece felt both like a relic of a moment enamored with the disruptive potential of net-based interventions and a poignant expression of the longings of a populace bound to technology by necessity. Dangling from the gallery’s ceiling is A Fine Line, 2018/21—a collaborative work by Jesse Darling, Erica Fitzgerald, Elan Schwartz, and Jackie Switzer—which indexes a range of ordinary artifacts, strung together by clothesline, that reveal the complicated facets of “everyday” existence: an infant’s onesie, a pair of adult pantyhose, a birthday piñata, a bundle of gold medals, razor wire, and bird-repelling steel spikes. The piece suggested the aftermath of a life-spanning party, doubling as a critique of status quo narratives—defined gender, merit-based success—and a mournful reminder of our inability to gather and celebrate in the pandemic’s darkest moments. Similarly, Pilvi Takala’s two-channel video The Stroker, 2018, satirizes the emptiness of trendy coworking spaces and corporate wellness rhetoric while depicting touch as both healing and invasive, evoking the truly conflicted nature of our current return to social intimacies.

It’s a show full of language that’s also concerned with language, and because of this the presentation feels experiential rather than didactic, as it consistently points back to the body as an unruly communicative instrument. When moving past the three enormous text-bearing banners by Nora Turato that hang back-to-back in a light-filled two-story corridor, I found myself as interested in their ambiguous messages as in how they fluttered when I walked by them. “Losing the thread here,” “on the verge of total victory,” “when the facts change i change my mind,” the works proclaim. These succinct accounts of the zeitgeist, sourced from the internet, were made physical in a way that called gentle attention to being, thankfully, a body in space.