No Body! Said the Two Lips
Société is pleased to announce No Body! Said the Two Lips, featuring works by Eva Hesse, Rindon Johnson, Precious Okoyomon, Marianna Simnett, and Jenna Sutela. References to bodily fluids and fluid bodies coarse through the exhibition. The contact points between these diverse works—sites where the body mingles with the world and with itself—function as instances of fusion and transformation: between the human and mineral, the organic and inorganic, the personal and the political. The artists in the exhibition share a tendency described by Stacy Alaimo as trans-corporeality. “By emphasizing the movement across bodies,” Alaimo writes, “trans-corporeality reveals the interchanges and interconnections between various bodily natures […] opening up a mobile space that acknowledges the often unpredictable and unwanted actions of human bodies, nonhuman creatures, ecological systems, chemical agents, and other actors.“
The exhibition derives its title from AI poetry generated by Jenna Sutela’s sculptural installation, a blown glass lava head and mobile app entitled I Magma. Drawing a line between histories of mysticism, psychedelia, and technology, the work explores altered states of consciousness and the creation of artificially intelligent “deep dreaming” computational systems that mimic the brain. Gut Floras, a series of three floral reliefs made from fired mammalian dung glazed in breast milk, gestures towards the more sensual and affective aspects of the enteric nervous system—the body’s “second brain” operated by bacteria. [Our bacterial make-up plays an important role in my interest towards this second brain—and generally shifting the perspective beyond anthropocentrism and individualism—not so much the ancient thinking.] Sutela’s site-specific work Secrete Garden extends her thinking around body fluids, specifically the psychobiotic qualities of milk, to plant bodies. The work transforms Société’s courtyard into a spiral of seasonal plants that bleed milky sap accompanied by a sound work featuring bio-mimetic song that imagines the streams and bubbles in flows of cell-cultured human milk.
A delicate watercolor and ink drawing by Eva Hesse offers a historical touchpoint for the assembled works. Potent, fragile, and dark, the free play of forms and associations in Hesse’s evocative early drawings illustrate her overarching drive to “dismantle the center” and destabilize the “life force” of existence that also characterizes the innovative sculptural work she is best known for. Working with materials like leather, bleach, and indigo, Rindon Johnson exhibits a series of works that, in the artist’s words, “live nearish to paintings as their questions are relational”. Johnson conceives of the materials he uses in his works as “by-products”, drawing alliances between his existence as a Black American and other material by-products of capitalist accumulation. “In his practice”, the writer Dana Kopel notes, “leather is a marked skin: weighted with decomposition and death, treated with materials—like indigo dye and coffee—that map the residue of chattel slavery.” Artist and Poet Precious Okoyomon’s work is fixated on material processes of rot, decay, and rebirth, often incorporating plant life, dirt, live animals, and their own bodily fluids into installations and sculptures that contend with the racialized histories of invasive species, their migration, adaptation, and survival, in global ecology. Fashioned out of raw lamb’s wool, the sculptures Not Yet Titled (Light) and Not Yet Titled (Blood Memory) seem “to raise their arms in prayer or lower them in protective stances, poised to brawl or break into dance,” as art historian Gregor Quack writes they are “reinforced and restrained with various lengths of wire, thread, and red and orange woolen yarn” and “can appear either as forceful guardians or as fragile children’s dolls.” The sculptures, assuming the roles of organic deities in her practice, are formally inspired by the effigy-like toys Okoyomon’s grandmother used to make for the artist and their siblings during their early childhood in Nigeria.
Marianna Simnett’s video Blood depicts the vivid visions of a young girl following a surgery to remove two turbinate bones from her nose, alternating scenes of the child’s sickbed with the mountain landscape of a remote Albanian village. Trailed by Lali, a “sworn virgin” who has taken a vow of chastity and renounced her biological identity to live as a man, and a pair of school friends who torment her by masquerading as her removed bones, the visions of Simnett’s young protagonist engage the potency of blood in its material and mythological dimensions.
Special thanks to Angel Nieto for his support.