Anne Duk Hee Jordan, The Worm­: Terrestrial, Fantastic and Wet, 2021, sculptures, black light, video (color, sound, 12 minutes 51 seconds). Installation view. From “Sex Ecologies.” Photo: Daniel Vincent Hansen.

Anne Duk Hee Jordan, The Worm­: Terrestrial, Fantastic and Wet, 2021, sculptures, black light, video (color, sound, 12 minutes 51 seconds). Installation view. From “Sex Ecologies.” Photo: Daniel Vincent Hansen.

“Sex Ecologies”

Humans reproduce like the birds and the bees, or so the adage goes. And when it comes to that sanitized euphemism, what gets lost is not only the queen, but a much wilder story: how bees, and their fetching flower friends, are part of a vast sensual network of multispecies polyamory in which plants use bees to mate and, in exchange, the insects get drunk on nectar. The group exhibition “Sex Ecologies,” spawned by a diverse transdisciplinary team—combining the kunsthall curators with the Seed Box (an environmental humanities program at Linköping University in Sweden), Senegalese art center RAW Material Company, and an advisory board of researchers—found a germ by teasing out how bodies replicate not through the binary of male versus female alone but also through all kinds of social encounters in which two or more entities merge sympathetically to become something else.

Although neither bees nor birds were overtly present, “Sex Ecologies” did have many worms. Anne Duk Hee Jordan’s immersive installation The Worm: Terrestrial, Fantastic and Wet, 2021, encouraged visitors to explore a darkened phantasmagoric hall with an ultraviolet flashlight. When shone on an imagined colony of deep-sea-creature-like props, the beam reflected a phosphorescent twinkle back at each guest-cum-diver. Some of these beasties, which resembled inflatable dancing tube men transformed into slugs in Day-Glo coats, were likewise illuminated with psychedelic colors; in the back of this crepuscular chamber, the room was additionally lit by the glint of a high-def video of flatworms, sea cucumbers, and other hermaphroditic organisms injecting and impregnating each other with their detachable sex organs. In another gallery, Alberta Whittle’s video A Black footprint is a beautiful thing, 2021, anchored digital collages from the 2021 series “Lessons from Below,” featuring negative photographic prints of fertility figures flanked by a pastiche of shells, corals, and beads. In the video, a rumination on what was consumed in the Caribbean through the destructive might of epistemicide—social theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos has used to define the process by which alien hegemonic systems supplant autochthonous knowledge, particularly social and agrarian practices—is intercut with close-ups of living shipworms gnawing away at wood, recalling how their own voracious ancestors bored holes into the hulls of two of Christopher Columbus’s ships. Reconsidered as anticolonial biological agents, these bivalves help slide the exhibition’s rhetoric around different forms of procreation toward a critique of social reproduction and the genealogy of norms and customs.

In the basement of this two-floor show sat Ibrahim Fazlic’s The Tingly Room, 2021, a self-contained fetish dungeon comprised of natural black latex draped from a stainless-steel scaffold. A set of hanging sex swings, straps, and handholds formed the seating for this hidden gallery within a gallery, whose own “skin” slowly degrades upon exposure to the CO2 in each human exhalation. Inside this space, audience members could listen on headphones to a story, whispered in a chill-inducing ASMR voice, of how microplastics invade our own bodies in a slow act of reciprocity.

Collectively, the resplendent forms and queer tales contained throughout the exhibition came together to demonstrate how the division between the human and the natural is as reductive and harmful as forcing gender into two stiff categories. Vis-à-vis power relations, the show’s most inspiring device lay in questioning the ways in which institutions, artists, and thinkers work together. “Sex Ecologies” was predicated on group work. Over the course of two years, the various participants convened in reading groups and held long discussions. Instead of hewing to a top-down curatorial vision, artists, curators, and scholars developed their projects—all new commissions—tangentially and in proximity. Amid the apparent cross-pollinations and the hybrid model of “Sex Ecologies” blooms feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham’s belief that by forging new communities of solidarity, we model new worlds. This unique experiment may turn out to have served exhibitions to come by demonstrating how to share goals and minds so as to achieve something not only novel, but extraordinary. Or, to paraphrase bell hooks on intimacy: If love is not about growing together, why do it?