New York

Dana Hoey, Imogene Simmons, 2019, ink-jet print, 32 1⁄4 × 24 3⁄4".

Dana Hoey, Imogene Simmons, 2019, ink-jet print, 32 1⁄4 × 24 3⁄4".

Dana Hoey

From catfights to survivors of the great outdoors, Dana Hoey’s photographs represent tensions within and among her female subjects. Since the late 1990s, much of the discourse surrounding her work has centered on its fictional and nonfictional aspects—that is, the distinction between her staged and candid pictures. Her latest solo exhibition at Petzel, “Dana Hoey Presents,” is premised on the “parafictional.” Hoey’s use of the term, however, does not refer to the slippage of imaginary characters into reality but draws on what the art historian Carrie Lambert-Beatty describes as practices “built on the contradictions between art’s ability to move into and change the world, and art as a space of only symbolic relevance.” One way Hoey challenged this separation between art and life was by becoming certified as a Muay Thai promoter and presenting a well-attended evening of matches featuring local female athletes.

This is not the first time that Hoey, who also trains in martial arts, has done such a thing. During a 2017 exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, she organized training sessions in jujitsu for young women. As she explained during a panel discussion, the sport teaches the choke hold—a grappling movelike that used by a New York City police officer to restrain Eric Garner in 2014, which resulted in Garner’s death. She saw the lessons as a way to empower women against structural violence.

Upon entering the exhibition, the viewer encountered one of her first opponents: Target Cipher (all works 2019), an abstract, stainless-steel stand-in for a punching bag. Composed of panels cut into diamond shapes, the glittering, harlequin-patterned sculpture appeared in fantastical shadowboxing portraits of professional and amateur fighters in the light-box series “Ghost Stories.” Hoey also made works featuring each of her thirteen collaborators—people of different ages, races, genders, and occupational backgrounds—in faux-promotional posters with graphic treatments by the designer David Knowles. While some of these people—such as the artists Maryam Monalisa Gharavi and Alex Zandi, and the Mark Morris dancer June Omura—might have been familiar to an audience in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood—others, such as the army veteran Imogene Simmons, were less known.

Hoey manipulated “Ghost Stories,” pieces that resemble horizontal filmstrips, with painterly, digital techniques. Though the artist has never created self-portraits before, she included her own likeness here to arresting effect in Ghost Story with Nagasawa Rosetsu Mountain Witch. In this work, Hoey juxtaposed a shot of herself with two black eyes next to an eighteenth-century painting of a yamauba, or mountain ogress, by Japanese painter Naga-sawa Rosetsu. Hoey and the painting are flanked by pictures of the Target Cipher sculptures. The yamauba is a crone figure who, according to the scholar Noriko T. Reider, “brings fertility and wealth, as well as death and destruction.” If Hoey’s self-portrait functions as one avatar for defying conventions of portraying an aging woman, her print Alicia “Slick” Ashley Shadow-boxing—an homage to the titular Jamaican-American fighter, who holds the Guinness World Record as the oldest female boxing champion—is a monumental update of Eadweard Muybridge’s classic motion studies. Papering the wall next to a boxing ring installed at the center of the gallery’s largest space, Hoey created a fourteen-foot-high collage of photos showing Ashley shadowboxing.

In her efforts to include diverse female perspectives on violence, Hoey organized a conversation and invited a fellow artist to participate in the show. Alongside her own objects, Hoey presented Agentic Mode, 2019, an installation by Marcela Torres. The work loops the sound of Torres’s boxing through amplifiers and effects pedals, strung up and within punching bags. While the piece effectively links the physical exertion of boxing in absentia to the aestheticized images on view, what Hoey’s new pictures overlook are the subtler ways in which aggression—racial and otherwise—infiltrates female relationships. During a panel discussion with the writer Sarah Schulman and the artists Nona Faustine and Emma Sulkowicz, Hoey broached the topic of “weaponizing victimhood,” citing incidents of racial profiling by white women (such as “BBQ Becky,” as she’s known on the internet, who in April 2018 called the police on a group of black people trying to grill in a public park in Oakland, California). The invited artists, who explore sexualized violence in their work, noted that the construction of the “perfect victim” is also linked to privileges of race and class. This term suggests Hoey’s own preoccupation with the passive-aggressive ways that whiteness asserts itself. Given her practice’s unflinching attention to psychology and stereotype, she is an artist positioned to explore these tendencies.