Los Angeles

Liz Glynn, Affirmative Consent, 2019, figurative element: enamel, bronze, 30 × 48 × 45".

Liz Glynn, Affirmative Consent, 2019, figurative element: enamel, bronze, 30 × 48 × 45".

Liz Glynn

On the heels of her sprawling, multisensory “sculptural experience” at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, “The Archaeology of Another Possible Future” (2017–19), Liz Glynn’s first exhibition at Vielmetter Los Angeles, intriguingly titled “Emotional Capital,” represented a shift in perspective: The earlier exhibition was populated with site-specific interactive sculptures in monumental materials, such as forklift pallets and shipping containers, that constituted a meditation on postindustrialization. Here, the twenty-two prints and sculptures dotting the gallery suggested less a coherent whole or consistent argument than a smorgasbord of procedural experiments reflecting the artist’s interest in material manifestations of late-capitalist ills—ambition, exhaustion, and indecision. The term emotional capital refers both to an individual’s stores of characteristics, such as self-esteem and resilience, and to a company’s psychological assets, such as employee satisfaction and brand image. Glynn’s works signaled that both reserves might be running low.

One piece, Affirmative Consent (all works 2019), involved a very unsexy painted bronze of the lower half of a woman’s body, chopped cruelly and uncleanly at the waist, plunked in a seated position straddling a neat stack of cinder blocks that raises the figure’s feet off the ground. The assemblage is reminiscent of Sarah Lucas’s playful casts of her friends’ bodies, but the abandoned figure’s splayed posture, coupled with the sterility of the cold gray blocks, proposes a very downbeat collapse of sexual and industrial value that obliquely echoes the equivocality of the show’s title. Exhaustion / Ecstasy, 2019, might have been the missing top half of Affirmative Consent: Here, an androgynous bronze torso hung wearily from the gallery wall, its arms and head sagging toward the floor. The crude look and odd proportions of these bodies can be attributed to Glynn’s process of casting different body parts from multiple models. Elsewhere, the human form was further disassembled: A glazed ceramic suit of armor (Affective Armor, 2019) was suspended like a high-fashion garment from a rolling rack, and a cast-iron sculpture of spindly human ribs (Hollowed Out, 2019) was seemingly pinned to the wall nearby. The works’ titles crucially relate the haptic presence of the works back to the themes of ambivalence, desperation, and emptiness that inspired them.

As elucidated in the press materials, an animating force of the exhibition was Lauren Berlant’s concept of “cruel optimism,” in which, for example, acting on the desire for a comfortable existence (a condition impossible to achieve, thanks to the effects and demands of an increasingly automated society) actually impedes one’s sense of comfort. Although not every work in the show could be lassoed with this framework, a rough and ghostly pile of resin-soaked black T-shirts shaped into a hollow-but-upright Victorian-ish gown poignantly materialized Berlant’s assertion that cruel optimism can apply even to a “political project.” The dress, titled Unfinished Business, 2019, was modeled after Victorian-era suffragette uniforms, and the slogans on the discarded T-shirts used to assemble it invoked a full span of hopeful projects, both personal and political: One says UNITED STEEL WORKERS; another, I STAND WITH STANDING ROCK. In the most plaintive patch of this garment-cum-sculpture, one crumpled shirt simply reads, WE LOVE YOU. The beauty of the dress and the apparent success of its symbolic wearer’s mission are undercut by the cynicism of what its title and materials suggest. Is this the cruelest optimism of all? That we can forever amble happily toward the ever-receding horizon of progress? For a lucky few, the horizon no longer glimmers in the distance, and they make do in the dark. For most of us, the sun still winks from the great beyond, drawing us ever closer to the brink.