Catherine Biocca, Red, 2020, industrial marker on hand-sewn terry cloth, cotton filling, cotton, 66 7/8 × 41 × 2".

Catherine Biocca, Red, 2020, industrial marker on hand-sewn terry cloth, cotton filling, cotton, 66 7/8 × 41 × 2".

Catherine Biocca

Catherine Biocca’s recent show “Milky Seas” took its name from an effect of bioluminescence created when bacteria in seawater cause large tracts of the ocean to glow blue at night. In the Italian artist’s hands, this reference torqued into metaphor, but so obliquely that the viewer stood in genuine need of the recent interview with the art magazine Monopol, in which the artist explains her interest in the phenomenon—luckily, a printout was available by the door. In the context of her exhibition, apparently, the artist related the luminescence produced by marine microorganisms to the toxic electricity generated on internet comment boards and in social media. As I stopped to read the printed conversation, I could hear from the next room female voices giggling and chattering, and every now and again a stentorian male voice shouting, “You need to shut the fuck up!” Before that, though, one might have extrapolated another reading of “milky seas,” since in the opening room one stood on a floor ostensibly splattered with spittle.

To be fair—especially as the artist says she labored to remove any overt reference to the coronavirus from her show, which was delayed by six months due to the pandemic—this was not as unhygienic as it may sound. The first room’s centerpiece, sitting on the ground, was Snoring House, 2020, a small cardboard structure whose frontage features a lachrymose male face, eyes closed, and whose interior contains a pulsing disco light. Lying on its back in front of the house was a flat monitor—presumably a pointer toward screen life. In the minimal digital animation shown on the screen, the same anthropomorphic edifice appears to snore, double-door mouth opening rhythmically and sending out drafts of white—and occasionally bilious black—liquid. Beside this array stood two squat bottles of artificial saliva; on the floor, which was covered in white fabric, Biocca had scrawled cartoon splashes in Magic Marker. The protagonist couldn’t know we existed but fired his gunk in our direction regardless. His face, meanwhile, being primarily just eyes and an elongated nose, also resembled a penis and testicles, lending “milky seas” yet another layer of meaning.

In the other room, Biocca pushed back against this (so to speak) manspreading. Facing each other were two toweringly oversize sculptures of aged women with giant heads and spindly bodies, faces garishly made up, gold hoop earrings glinting, mouths open in laughter to reveal yellow teeth, their bodies wrapped in scarves blazoned with skeletons and flames. Puffy cutout reliefs of four more older ladies, naked and wrinkly and dancing, lined the walls, while a soundtrack relayed—amid bursts of noxious, stiff-legged electronic pop—a brief, murky conversation between the standing pair, who sniggered like kids or like a distaff Beavis and Butt-Head. “Maybe I was born to be spiteful and mean, but . . . I wouldn’t change a thing,” we hear, along with vaguely clarifying talk of hide-and-seek, before the aforementioned (unseen) male—his footsteps clomping—tells them to shut up. Then, as the audio loops, the women start up again.

One of the salient threads here was that none of these figures was paying any meaningful attention to anyone outside their own little world. Biocca makes that problem into a kind of solution, as the atomization pivots: It gives rise not only to the self-righteous shouting of the man, but also to the riotous behavior of the older women in the face of sexism and ageism. The artist could be accused of building an overcomplicated route to her polemical point. While you were in its trajectory, “Milky Seas” dropped entitled masculinity to the floor and loomed high above it, cackling.