There are plenty of strange creatures lurking in the “Grossly Affectionate” exhibit now at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, and it’s hard to tell exactly what they are.
Some are fluffy, even downright cuddly, like the stuffed animal-like things that Jennifer Pettus makes from various recycled fabrics and a few unexpected odds and ends, like human hair, napkin rings and faux fur.
Some are downright hard to digest, like Cristobal Cea’s “The Extended Thing,” an installation that combines three-dimensional sculptures of internal body organs with digital prints of what appear to be more body organs – intestines and intestines. things that look like kidneys, hearts and veins.
And some are just out of this world, like the installation by the artist who goes by the name of Mr. Hanimal, which features three sculptural beings, each with the size and carriage of a small dog, who appear to have thumbs. for heads and use fingers as feet.
Nothing about this show is easy to describe in words or categorize in the usual way we talk about humans, animals, and other souls that inhabit physical bodies, and that’s what “Grossly Affectionate” is all about. He wants to challenge us to rethink our perceptions of living form, refusing to allow easy descriptors like race, gender, flora, fauna, earthly, extraterrestrial, beautiful, ugly or whatever. whatever else.
The timing is right, of course. We live in a time of transhuman consciousness, where races are mixing, genders are fading, and DNA can be altered. It’s a fabulous moment in history when people and things that didn’t fit before are finally being recognized and – slowly for some, too quickly for others – accepted.
As shocking and unattractive as the exposition may be, “Grossly Affectionate” acknowledges the beauty of it all, but also the challenges it presents to the way we understand and communicate with each other. These are confusing times for everyone, and anyone trying to avoid using incorrect pronouns or badly confusing their neighbors or talking too awkwardly about ethnicity, disability, medical conditions, sexuality, age or other markers fully understands the situation.
Rather than being confrontational, however, this show offers a place to relax, even laugh, and acknowledge that we are all transforming together.
And it succeeds because the work is fully engaged. The images and creatures the seven artists present have an irresistible sincerity, a reality that begs you to consider their essence and appreciate it, however difficult it may be to comprehend.
The Pettus three-dimensional objects are good examples of this. When you first meet them, they come across as the kind of squishy things you want to touch and hold – satiny quilted cushions or toys that belong in a domestic setting.
But Pettus, who primarily uses upcycled textiles she finds at garage sales, gives them their own agency and eccentricity, and brings them firmly out of typical comfort zones. She uses pretty colors and patterns but mixes them up clumsily. She gives them humanoid or doll-like shapes, but retains symmetry, so it can be difficult to piece together the image. They appear to have one arm or one leg, clumsy bumps and head shapes, and clawed feet. The titles she gives them confuse their biographies even more. One is called “Flotsam”, the other “Pussyfooted”.
Artist Kate Casanova indulges in similar contrasts, though she seems to specialize in mixing different densities of materials. It combines hard and soft things, solids and fluids, rigid plastic and soft mesh.
His “No-show Blister Breath” piece evokes a monster from a low-budget sci-fi movie with blistered plastic bubbles all over its surface that make it look like it has multiple eyes. She installs it on two concrete blocks that act as feet.
The contrasts in his work serve as metaphors for the contrasts of all beings, especially humans. Made of skin, bones, blood and organs, are we hard or soft, wet or dry, delicate or durable? Or, as this show posits, grotesque or adorable?
Like Pettus’ offerings, Casanova’s works are not hideous, just unique, and they ask us to recognize the uniqueness of all beings.
Other artists have their own ways of expressing this idea. “Cicatriz” by Estevan Ruiz is a collage of 18 close-up black and white photographs of those round scars that many people have from inoculations meant to prevent smallpox. They may be hideous, but we know these crater marks save lives. Each has its own form, but they testify to a common fragility and capacity for perseverance that crosses social categories.
The same goes for Cea’s disembodied organs, and another piece, by Sam Grabowska, that looks like oversized, exposed ribs. The works seem raw, but they have something honest about them. We hide these things because they repel us, but it is better to see them and understand that this is the stuff we are made of, and use them to highlight the fact that these internal elements supersede notions of gender, race and even species.
Pamela Meadows, who curated the show, was wise to balance this earnestness with more whimsical work, including Daisy May Collingridge’s series of photos featuring people wearing quirky, fluffy costumes that confuse the interior of our body with the exterior. His fleshy clothes resemble anatomical drawings that come to life, and it is impossible to discern whether the people wearing them are male or female, old or young. They simply ask us to consider how bodies move and relate to each other.
And then there are those four-pedaled thumbs – Mr. Hanimal’s walking hands, which are rendered in yellow, blue and pink. These are the ultimate “grossly affectionate” objects, a bit creepy, sure, but in a weird way, relatable and very human. As humans, we’ve learned to walk together on our evolutionary journey to the top of the food chain and those opposite numbers are the things that set us apart from almost every other living thing on the planet.
In a sense, they are our essence, more than any label or category we might assign to ourselves or each other. We’re just thumbs, weird, hidden thumbs.
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