New York

Aziz + Cucher

Henry Urbach Architecture

FOR ALMOST A DECADE, Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher have explored the materiality and frangibility of the human (or humanoid) body. In their most recent photographic installations, the duo denaturalizes and reconfirm res human skin—complete with freckles, spots, pores, and hair follicles—to form deep, dark architectural spaces, twisted sculptural shapes like pieces of odd furniture, and mutant scientific specimens to be analyzed. These hybrid agglutinations are alternately clinical and fantastic, inviting and disgusting.

“Interiors,” 1998-2000, the most effective series in Aziz + Cucher's latest show, is a group of sepia-toned photographs of mole-speckled, ciliated skin, digitally altered so that it appears to line cavelike rooms, umbrageous staircases, and dark entryways. Distinctions between inside and outside wither away like some retrograde state. Where am I? If I go up that corridor, am I still on the outside, looking in? But into what? Like a flâneur of the corpus, the viewer has the impression of passing through a set of labyrinths without ever penetrating, and this sense of being held in abeyance, vexed, is weirdly erotic.

The “Chimeras,” 1998–99, are six large vertical photographs. Using the same epidermal vocabulary as the “Interiors,” each captures a single front-lit sculptural form against a black background. Monstrous, the forms look like twisted trumpets, used condoms, crinkled bones, or architectural sconces for some pre-Columbian structure. Somewhere between Brancusi-esque bases without their better halves and supertechnological “appliances” for a race of freaks, these freckly figments seem neither purely aesthetic nor wholly functional: They linger somewhere uncomfortably in-between.

In the “Naturalia” series, 2000, Aziz + Cucher recombine bits and pieces of their own earlier work, presenting photographs and text that resemble nineteenth-century anatomical treatises. Replete with complicated diagrams and impressive-sounding rhetoric, these works highlight the gnosis and diagnosis of corporeality. But, purely science-fictional, the bodies can't exist (yet). And imagining the advent of a new kind of body is part of the works' humorous intrigue and vertiginous horror.

At once a document of a kind of residual barbarism and a glossy display of technologically advanced “culture,” Aziz + Cucher's body project is a difficult trick to pull off. Does it work? (Can the body be said to “work”?) Sometimes. Skillful and savvy , the artists gesture toward that imaginary liminal space where the body ends and the “I” begins. Yet there is a limit to this line of inquiry, and it may correspond precisely to the limitations of and on the body itself, or at least on the utility of representing the “body” now—which, after a century and a half of fragmentation, abstraction, and degradation, remains art's perceptual and perspectival anchor. Bodies in pain, bodies without organs, bodies that matter, bodies that scatter: Aziz + Cucher seem to have thought all this through for their own serious and disturbing yet quite elegant skin show. But what art may still be waiting for is the revelation of its own secret, embarrassing anachronism: not the supertechnologized, transvalued body, but the sad, sappy old “soul.” In art, as in life, there isn't enough of it.

Nico Israel