Leda Bourgogne

Skin is the interface through which we experience the world. It both protects us and makes us vulnerable. This dichotomy of embodiment was explored in dynamic ways in Leda Bourgogne’s first solo exhibition in Berlin, “Skinless,”which featured works that treat the surface of painting and sculpture as a skin that mirrors our own in its susceptibility and its capacity for resistance.

Hung prominently in the gallery next to the main entrance was the painting that lent its name to the exhibition (all works cited, 2018). Made from stretched, beige-colored fabric, it has a small bleached patch toward its middle. The work’s most noticeable feature, however, is a curvy slit that runs its length—a cut sewn up from behind in such a way as to conceal the stitches—with red lipstick kisses from the artist along the thin, scar-like line, smudging outward toward the bottom like the legs of a spider. If both violence and intimacy were evinced in this act of forceful cutting and its caring repair, another work in the room felt more personal, and a bit humorous. Gum consisted of pieces of dried-up chewing gum dotting the gallery floor. Bourgogne chewed pieces of it herself and then wrote phrases such as mending holes in our memory and you like to be looked at with jealousy on them. Making visible an array of candid thoughts anyone could have had, these inscriptions became slightly smeared away by foot traffic over the course of the exhibition.

Exposing our inner life was also the idea behind Killing for Company, a black leather jacket with dangling appendages suspended in the air. Nylon tights covered in red latex are glued to the jacket’s front pockets, and a pair of similarly latex-covered boxing gloves affixed to cotton wool “arms” are taped to its back, serving as a defenseless defense mechanism. The limp limbs and empty jacket suggest not only the body’s fragility and malleability but also how lifeless our exteriors would be without their insides. Getting to know someone—unwrapping them, so to speak—we see who they really are, sans facade. It is a process that can be as frightening as it is exhilarating.

A group of works in the packed, small back room could have been read as a collection of shells or layers to take off. Masochist, for example, was a large work mostly in black velvet that had been bleached in the lower right-hand corner; similar acts of removal are encountered in most of Bourgogne’s paintings. At its top, a white velvet serpentine shape slithers over little pieces of red fabric that resemble rose petals, while three interlinked black leather belts bind it together from top to bottom. Another work, Such Queer Moons We Live In—the title a modified line from the poem “Balloons” from Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published collection Ariel (1965)—recalled the sensuousness of Skinless with diaphanous, skin-colored fabric, and cut and mended canvas. Ripped fishnet tights are spread across the top right corner like a stylized bat wing, with fineliner traces continuing the tights’ sinuous floral pattern like mascara running down a cheek. Also interspersed in the room were four large sculptures, three made from black metal CD stands of the kind found in music stores in the 1990s. At more than seven feet tall, Rope-Arms (Father) was an imposing presence, with its twisted central slotted rack reminiscent of a contorted spine, and long, skinny arms that draped to the floor. At its top sat a white, tonguelike clay sculpture with a piece of chewed green gum affixed to it, heightening the interiority radiating from the skeletal shape. Bourgogne’s sculptures and wall works invite us to look beyond surface appearances, beckoning us to not shy away from what we find: our very real weaknesses and strengths, our condition humaine.