The just finished exhibition at DRAF, London hinged on a contradiction for me – its works, centred on the theme of flesh, treated it as shifting, porous, if not ephemeral but at the same time, the display was stubbornly tangible, rejecting the ghostliness of a post-digital human. No video or film installations were to be found here; instead of the (way too literal) use of the computer technologies, the possible transformations of contemporary networked body were alleged through the overlooked (underestimated?) agents of illness, mortality, lived experience, sexuality and the cultural norms.
The exhibition stretched through five rooms that, coincidentally, sit next to each other in one line and therefore effortlessly illustrate a kind of passage through the body (gallery/institution body). Everywhere around were reminders that transitions do not only happen in physical space but are also set against time – whether in David Wojnarowicz’s Brain Time/Blood Brain or Kelly Akashi’s chandeliers of dripping candle wax, time was fleshed out as one of the principal players on the body. Other artists embodied questions of how viruses, pregnancy or childhood memories modify our bodies and, even deeper, penetrate our flesh – their strange protrusions, arrays of colour, ill-fitted or dismembered limbs and sprouting hair are testaments that the body itself functions as a network responsive to impulses from inside and outside and that it is equally yours and societal when it comes to controlling it (Dora Budor’s cinematic props shaped as pipes were two works of this kind, as was perhaps Carolee Schneemann’s Nude on Tracks D and Nude on Tracks E).
The body mutated from subjecthood to objecthood and back again. The staple of Internet amusement, from ‘people who dressed as objects‘ to ‘owners who look like their dogs’, was here converted into witty candle holders that bore female faces and human-sized chairs that wore shoes – objects derived from their users’ or owners’ lives. I think it makes perfect sense to look at inanimate things immediately around us to see how much they operate as our adopted extremities, our extended functionality: what do you frequently reach for in your living room? Have you not grown in one with your book/phone/cigarettes? What does the photograph on your wall do to your physicality?
The interchangeability in ‘Streams of Warm Impermanence’ has a lot to do with the overall instability that rages within the current super-connected universe. But for me, the exhibition also exposed the abundant examples of metamorphosis that the body has long been subjected to, that it adapted to and absorbed. Mutation is not necessarily mutilation even if the two terms appear so close; even when Kerry Akashi makes candles and fingers in her sculptures indistinguishable, the alien organ/object, partly natural and partly synthesized, cannot be completely disowned.
PS – Follow Matthew McLean’s talk in which the Frieze writer peels skin off the flesh, finds that whatever makes up the body is not just matter but information and quotes about pharmacopornography from Paul B. Preciado’s Testo Junkie: