Taking advantage of CRLab’s experimental mandate, What is left takes a two-fold approach. While it is a thematic exhibition, it is presented through a metamorphosing curatorial lens that unfolds over time. Works by Nina Lola Bachhuber, Elissa Levy and Nick Herman will be individually introduced, swapped out and/or rearranged, resulting in a variety of improvised juxtapositions. Adding a layer of temporality to the curatorial and viewing process, What is left hopes to challenge some of the preconceptions about the experience of viewing art in a gallery.
Thematically, What is left considers the human figure, but neither the classical figure nor some reaction against it, grotesque, abject or otherwise. Instead it ponders some of the most enduring ideas that swirl around and define the body — constructions of power, myth and desire; beauty and vanity; even existential states of mind. The exhibition is less a meditation on the corporeal than an attempt to grasp “what is left” by the body’s physical absence.
Methodologically, What is left investigates the curatorial process as a collection of varying creative and theoretical possibilities. On a given day, a particular discourse may be initiated between two or three works. On another day, an installation of different works altogether might be on view. Such ongoing curatorial decisions and gestures drive this exhibition, which seeks to explore how the shifting organization of works inform the dialogue between the works themselves and viewer’s expectations.
The residue of the show’s varied installations — nails, holes in the wall, cleats, hooks, spatial gaps — will remain visible during the course of the exhibition, serving as evidence, clue or perhaps even aura that inform one’s understanding and interpretation of the show’s underlying theme. If a gallery is a vessel in which one’s own body relates in time and space to works of art, What is left explores how this relationship might change within the confines of a single thematic premise, using a specific selection of work. While What is left does not intend to challenge the exhibition’s basic premise, the inclusion of works and the arrangement of the installation will be altered, allowing for multiple permutations.
The human body itself is present in each of the works in What is left, but it is de-contextualized, amputated, animated, adorned, obscured. With a keen eye for modes of display, Nina Lola Bachhuber combines the formal language of surrealist sculpture with post-minimalist tendencies. Her curious, pseudo-mythological creatures are adorned with an array of decorative elements — hair, beads, nylons, leather — arranged in a manner that heightens the tension and confusion between their intended use and their engimatic presentation. Bachhuber reconstructs her materials into seemingly ceremonial or devotional objects that revel in a realm of fetishistic obsession that is both playful and sinister. Here, for example, a viewer may see three bewigged skulls transformed into monopodic homunculi displayed on a modernist coffee table, the surface of which is composed of a meticulously hand-drawn pattern of geometric design. Invoking a menacing version of the Three Graces or even a collection of memento mori, Bachhuber’s tableau puts forth a multiplicity of speculative possibilities.
The work of Nick Herman explores the psychological desire for myth; in particular, the allegorical power of the American West and the “Promised Land” as informed by popular culture, geo-politics, religion and secular vocabularies. Themes of violence, entropy and excess are, as the artist states, “often coupled with popular and highly marketed popular archetypes of heroism and material apotheosis, striking in rich for example in sexual vigor.” In sculpture and works on paper, the figure is possessed by a desire for improved states and prosperity. In Paradise Valley, for example, copulating figures are almost obscured by the earthquake-damaged landscape that envelops them, underscored by an eruption of a repetitive pattern that suggests decorative wallpaper or architectural plans. A combination of traditional materials with fat and milk solids for example, emphasize not only the entropic qualities of the human body and its environs, but the extreme divide separating desire and excess.
Working directly on newspapers and magazines, Elissa Levy deconstructs various male icons — soldiers, athletes, celebrities and politicians — that populate the printed media. Isolating their forms, she strips them of identifiable cues of power or fame, reducing them to ghost-like apparitions. Reanimated in pen and paint with concentric lines of fluorescent colors, these reimagined and reworked figures look like renderings of auras or infrared photography, as if providing a glimpse into their core. Approached with a punk DIY ethos and the use of craft materials, Levy transforms contemporary artifacts into raw and makeshift future relics. While aggressively de-contextualizing (limbs are amputated) or eradicating these figures in their current mass-reproduced form, Levy painstakingly alters them into otherworldly silhouettes that distract from their socially constructed masculinity.
In his 1855 poem “I Sing the Body Electric,” Walt Whitman refers to “the charge of the soul.” By exploring various elemental, mythical and mythological aspects of the human form, the works in What is left seek out this space between an electrically charged celebration of the corporeal and calls to remember our own mortality. The work of Bachhuber, Herman and Levy employ the figure as cipher, using it as a sociopolitical (and at times anthropological) prism that might offer a glimpse of “what is left” when it’s gone.
Nina Lola Bachhuber was born in Munich, Germany. She obtained her MFA at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg. Bachhuber has exhibited widely at venues including UCLA Hammer Museum; the Moore Space, Miami; Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal, Germany; Gallery Min Min, Tokyo; the 7th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazill; and in New York, the Drawing Center, P.S.1/MoMA, Sculpture Center, Metro Pictures, Mary Boone and Lehmann Maupin Galleries. A solo exhibition of her work is currently on view at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, New York, through December 19, 2010.
Nick Herman is an artist, writer and publisher of ANTEPROJECTS. He has exhibited at the Sculpture Center, Socrates Sculpture Park and Peter Blum Gallery in New York and at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles, California. His work was recently a part of Portugal Arte (Lisbon). In 2011, Herman will be an artist-in-residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas, and will have a solo project at LA><ART in Los Angeles. He has an MFA in sculpture from Yale University and a BA in religious studies from Macalester College. Herman is based in Los Angeles, California.
Elissa Levy is a mixed media artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She has had solo exhibitions at Stonefox Artspace, New York; The Living Room, San Francisco; and Brooklyn Fireproof, Inc, Brooklyn. Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the New Museum and White Columns in New York; G Fine Art, Washington, D.C.; and the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP), Brooklyn. In 2006, she was awarded a residency at Glenfiddich, Scotland. She has recently been organizing a series of events entitled “Sewing Socials” where guests are invited to wear clothing that needs repair and a team of darners will mend them.
Rachel Gugelberger was recently co-director of Sara Meltzer Gallery, where she co-curated the exhibitions Landscapes for Frankenstein, Ceci n’est pas… and Prevailing Climate. Upcoming projects include Data Deluge, a presentation of works that utilize data as source material and Library Science, an exhibition that ponders our changing role to the library as it adapts to the digital world. Rachel is currently working independently in New York.