Simon Fujiwara, SS Delirium, 2020, mixed media, 86 5⁄8 × 32 1⁄4 × 66 7⁄8".

Simon Fujiwara, SS Delirium, 2020, mixed media, 86 5⁄8 × 32 1⁄4 × 66 7⁄8".

Simon Fujiwara

Dvir Gallery | Brussels

Disease, when it flares, arouses our animal hunger and fear of touch. Simon Fujiwara’s prescient exhibition “A Conquest” plumbed his intimate ordeal with syphilis. The infection had been all but eradicated until a recent resurgence, when users of PrEP, a combination of antiviral medications that protects against HIV, found themselves contracting STIs instead. Across continents and centuries, syphilitic eruptions have been used to justify greater regulation of bodies and sexual expression. In rejoinder, Fujiwara staged his own illness and recovery as a fanciful adventure tale–cum–fever dream with the artist cast as hero. Against a backdrop of antipathy and shame, his story becomes one of defiant sexual exuberance.

Fujiwara unabashedly bends history’s wide arc in the service of personal narrative. His epic begins in 1492, when Christopher Columbus’s three caravels supposedly transported the devastating affliction from the Americas to Europe. SS Delirium (all works 2020), one of three ship models Fujiwara conjured using a combination of 3D printing and CNC-cutting technologies mixed with handwork, is a winged vessel in the grip of an octopus. Blanched sails carrying faded images taken from advertisements touting sexual diversity, including one for PrEP, propel the ship along rainbow capitalism’s treacherous course. A chandelier titled Pink Panther vs The Pope replicates the Vatican’s facades in etched Plexiglas. Cutouts of the wily animated character loiter playfully along its surfaces, threatening to breach the innermost sanctum of religious moral authority.

From here, our hero embarks on the inky-black SS Contagion, a pirate ship whose ravaged sails bear excerpts of Fujiwara’s Grindr chats, logos of pornography sites, and erotic selfies. The devil is in the details, right down to the tiny skulls along the ship’s hull and the minutely rendered interiors of Berlin underground gay-meetup spots encapsulated in three suspended lanterns collectively titled Animal Kingdom. Fujiwara revels in intricately webbed, hermetic universes where possibilities for radical vulnerability at times feel buried beneath winking innuendo.

What happens when illness erodes the contours of one’s identity? The series “Syphilic Comrades” comprises four skeletal busts depicting towering figures of the Western art canon: Gauguin, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec, and van Gogh—all purported sufferers of syphilis. Each sculpture is festooned with personal artistic attributes and diminutive reproductions of the named artist’s works. Together these assemblages bring to a ghastly apotheosis the elision of artist and artwork. They summon, too, the twin specters of genius and madness. Fujiwara conceived some of the show’s imagery while experiencing syphilitic hallucinations. In an epistolary text addressed to “My Dear Friend,” Fujiwara writes, “Sometimes a thousand gleaming images would descend and blanket my person . . . to reveal riches . . . that, when I waked I cried to dream again.” In reclaiming sound mind and body, Fujiwara mourns that which he must forfeit.

Perhaps for this reason, several works concerning Fujiwara’s clinical treatment and recovery were strikingly antiseptic; SS Salvation is a bioengineered stingray-cum-hydrodynamic sailing ship. “I find myself secretly longing for that raucous jeopardy of which I am now bereft,” he laments. What, at the end, has our hero vanquished? Delivered to safety, he finds himself restless and abandoned to vanitas. As in most epic tales, the cure lies in the quest.