Mexico City

Paloma Rosenzweig, Dientes (Teeth), 2021, dry-felted merino sheep wool, wire frame, 7 7⁄8 × 17 1⁄2 × 15 3⁄4".

Paloma Rosenzweig, Dientes (Teeth), 2021, dry-felted merino sheep wool, wire frame, 7 7⁄8 × 17 1⁄2 × 15 3⁄4".

Paloma Rosenzweig

bóca

I cannot even begin to guess the number of times I have seen a person’s throat cut in films. However, I remember becoming aware of the vulnerability of one’s (female) body through one particular and much more austere image than any movie had to offer: Alberto Giacometti’s 1932 sculpture Femme égorgée (Woman with Her Throat Cut). Displayed on the floor, an abstracted, insect-like figure lies with its legs wide open, with rib cage and breasts exposed, its arched, elongated throat accentuating the fall of the now-inert tiny nodule-shaped head. This suggestive image, unlike all that cinematic gore, still preys on my thoughts.

Paloma Rosenzweig’s solo exhibition “No hacer daño: Cuerpos Suaves” (Do No Harm: Soft Bodies) likewise had its fair share of exposed viscera on display. A stark yet evocative exercise in sculpture, it was composed of six large biomorphic volumes depicting what their titles laconically stated—Columna (Spine), Dientes (Teeth), Garganta (Throat), Mano (Hand), Nervios (Nerves), and Tripas (Entrails)—as well as a drawing, Fibras I (Fibers I; all works 2021). The sculptures, made of muted gray dry-felted merino wool supported by hidden wire structures, lay scattered across the room on low plinths made of thin sheets of bent stainless steel, their height generally increasing from the entrance to the back of the gallery. The aggressive juxtaposition of felt, a material evocative of warmth and protection (in keeping with the mythology Joseph Beuys meticulously wove around it), with the undisguised coldness of the stainless steel accentuated the brittleness of these exposed organs, stripped of protective covering.

Unlike what we see in the movies, Rosenzweig refrains from turning human body parts into a vulgar display for purposes of entertainment (specifically, she refrains from turning female bodies into objects of brutal violence) and instead posits them as objects of contemplation. Resting horizontally on the plinth, Columna, for instance, resembled a young invertebrate creature. Yet looking from above at the sculpture, clothed in a woolen sack, felt as revelatory as peeking inside a volcano’s crater. Although recognizable, these sculptures are not determined by a striving for extreme visual accuracy. On the contrary, their enlarged scale triggers emotions and equates watching with an intimate act. Standing in the gallery, I wondered whether these soft bodies might, if we could touch them, become sensory objects à la Lygia Clark.

Garganta may be the most compelling of the works. Three large protuberances––the uvula and the flanking tonsils––lead the gaze into a cavity. While the pronounced curvature of the upper jutting volumes recalls some of modern sculpture’s greatest manifestations (for example, Barbara Hepworth’s Mother and Child, 1934), the throat’s gaping tunnel hints at a feminized characterization of this body of work, thanks to its uncanny resemblance to a vagina, heightened by its vulva-shaped final end. Rosenzweig’s dissections trigger corporeal sensations by delicately revealing the organs’ unguarded presence. To stop myself from touching Garganta, I admit, required self-discipline.

This sculptural ensemble is the first installment of a larger project, titled “Do No Harm,” in which Rosenzweig explores clinical notions of illness and the practice of medicine as an ideological tool for conditioning bodies and “correcting” abnormalities. While that concern has been fertile ground for all sorts of cultural work––Michel Foucault’s writings on biopolitics and Susan Sontag’s analysis of the use of illness as metaphor in literature, to name just two examples––to assume such a cerebral stance in “Soft Bodies” would be reductive. To see these objects as what Rosenzweig herself calls “emotional anatomical models” makes more sense. Rather than engaging in a critique of the way bodies have been captured by different institutional forces (the medical profession, the entertainment industry, or even the art system), her sculptures work by prompting nonoppressive, anti-sensational forms of somatic experiences.