Shannon Bool, Oued Ouchaia, 2018, jacquard tapestry, embroidery, 6' 10“ × 10' 8”.

Shannon Bool, Oued Ouchaia, 2018, jacquard tapestry, embroidery, 6' 10“ × 10' 8”.

Shannon Bool

While Shannon Bool’s show “Bomb. Shell.” featured many provocatively posed women, the images hardly qualified as pinups. Rather, they reflected Bool’s long-standing interest in combining the tactics of the historical avant-gardes (photomontage and Cubist collage) with unconventional materials and methods (wool and sewing) to slyly short-circuit (rather than explode, as the show’s title implied) masculinist mythologies of modernism. Bool’s subversions are playful yet satirical, and critical in ways that run deep, partially because of their compositional complexity. 

Take the pair of striking jacquard tapestries on view here: Both included two female figures derived from erotic, exoticizing drawings made by Le Corbusier in Algiers while he was developing his absurdly ambitious (and never realized) Plan Obus, 1932–42. In Bool’s hands, the bodies interact with the floor plans and elevation views that formed part of an aggressive scheme to redevelop the Algerian capital into the central conduit between Europe and Africa. In Maison Locative Ponsik (all works 2018), part of the tapestry is silk-screened with outlines of a building’s stories and stairways, rendered with suitably straight lines, along with cars and a single schematic male figure, whose function had been (in the source material of the blueprint) to establish scale and sight lines. But in Bool’s work he is dwarfed by the architect’s curvaceous ladies, here woven in brown patterns based on traditional North African rugs. Bool’s painstaking embellishments of these figures—fragmentary white lines of hand-sewn cotton embroidery that retrace and extend the contours of buildings and bodies—metaphorically suggest that the dehumanizing damage of “civilizing” colonialism reverberates and continues to haunt us today. For instance, Bool’s cotton vectors extend the male figure’s sight lines so that they focus on the women’s private parts, reflecting Le Corbusier’s objectifying outlook. In Oued Ouchaia, Corbu’s cars are seen arriving and departing within the drawing for a Plan Obus restaurant—their occupants presumably consuming its delicacies and then leaving, as the architect himself had done in Algiers. Here, the women are posed in especially uncomfortable ways, twisted and intertwined in a manner analogous to the tight weave of the wool strands, a product of a programmed contraption. (Bool’s production process indeed depends on advanced technology, beginning with an electronic file sent to a specialized fabricator in Belgium.) One of the two figures is composed in vivid shades of orange, red, yellow, and white flame-like forms. And yet, despite the invocations of fiery fury, the work also registers as a soft and seductive item. Tapestries have a history of associations with great privilege and power—with empires in the old-school sense—and Bool’s interpretation of the medium still registers as high-end wall hangings that are durable and portable to boot. These tensions between luxury and violence are reminiscent of the confrontations between imperialism, ravaged bodies, and bourgeois decor enacted in Martha Rosler’s “House Beautiful (Bringing the War Home)” series, ca. 1967–72.

In another corner of the same space, Bool mined the modernist past further with an engrossing grouping of four smaller works. One black-and-white photograph, Little Hans, depicted the marbled men’s room of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958) in New York, with the painted addition of a dead horse lying on the floor. The gray-and-white animal draws attention to an unconscious and morbid awareness of the (bodily) waste left in the wake of imperialists, under the guise of postwar progress perpetrated on a universal scale. While the picture’s title refers to a patient of Freud whose fear of castration was tied to the traumatic witnessing of a horse’s death, Bool materially realizes this scene on the site where elite New Yorkers came to relieve themselves; that moment of urination may signify the plumbing that underlies the International Style—the underside of all those ego- and Eurocentric grids and I beams. Bool’s use of those grids is always paired with contemplative processes that signify the need for rumination on the relationships between design and bodies, design and violence, design and the colonized multitudes. Those operations are simultaneously disruptive tools that begin to unravel the mythologies of global capitalism.