Santa Fe

Kiki Smith

Laura Carpenter Gallery

You were there, Saturday evenings spent at home, watching the dark parade of monsters and mutants. And if Kiki Smith’s recent show is any indication, she was, too. Count Floyd, queso as ever—fake fangs, fake hair, fake accent, fake everything—telling you about tonight’s Creature Feature, Island of the Mushroom People. Even more queso than the Count. Seems impossible, but it’s true. A crew of Japanese scientists gets shipwrecked on an island inhabited by walking, sentient mushrooms. If they touch you, you turn into a mushroom person, too—but slowly, by inches, fungus sprouting out here and there, arms and hands and face covered bit by bit. At which point, you’re gone for good: neither entirely fungus nor completely human, but some awful combination of the two, both more, and less, than either. It’s a whole new esthetic category. Not sublime exactly (but it partakes of that particular rush, a finger pointing somewhere out there, toward a certain beyond). Not exactly beautiful, either (but it’s got that too, you can see the truth of it).

In the gallery’s back room, an anatomy lesson sprung to life, and cast in bronze. Except here, instead of the usual baggage of body theory and gender discourse, the denuded figure carries a weird erotic charge; she’s a Clive Barker woman, seductive even without the skin. On another wall, there are rows of carefully rendered paper breasts, thin, puffy; they flutter in the wind, and their vulnerability seduces as well. Elsewhere a brazen head emerges from high on the wall, a frozen scream echoing the tears that will recycle forever, running in rivulets, dripping off the nose. A silver gray arm, mushrooms sprouting along it’s length, it’s the Island all over again. A pedestal-two heads are joined at the neck, emerging one from inside the other, screams frozen on their still oozing faces; an arm, blue veins and bones visible, sits on the window ledge, as though it belonged to one of the heads. The bits of circulatory system, blown-glass veins, and blood propped against the wall, certainly do.

In the last room, there’s a virginal, naked figure; her arms outstretched. She’s silver—cast aluminum—and her spine’s exposed. Flowers emerge from the bones, and tendrils with thorns, curving out from behind her back; she’s not quite human, and somehow more than that, too. She delivers a benediction, she waits for an embrace. Call it Creature Feature Deluxe or Horror Movie Sublime. Nietzsche pointed out the possibilities here, when he announced the death of god, the death of humanism. The body has already been worked over by the hands of power: catalogued, charted, flayed, displayed. It’s now possible to move beyond that, beyond simply being human, gendered. It’s necessary to become something more; with nothing more (or less) than the freedom of our darkest desires (our most gorgeous fears). We can become beautiful monsters, mutants all.

Mark Van de Walle