CURATED SECTION // 2016
Something I Can Feel is an exhibition of eight contemporary artists who explore the idea of the body as a site of reckoning, transformation and departure. Each artist creates forms which reference the body as transitional and ambiguous in its ties to cultures, and histories as well as forms of longing, intuition and sensation. Another way of saying this is that bodies perform responses to experience. The artwork here examines those visceral dispatches. This exhibition is not intended to tell a single story nor is it tied to a singular idea of truth, to history, to a body, a particular system of knowledge or way of being known.
Instead, curator DERRICK ADAMS is facilitating an important conversation between eight contemporary artists exploring the idea that bodies are sites of tension and provocation. The essential proposition here is that bodies are artifacts of the exchange between memory and flesh. And the artwork at the intersection of this crossing, this evocation, suggests the idea that we, as the performers of experience, can be felt, broken-down, built-up, (mis)understood, lived with, around and in, and, most importantly, made new.
— Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks
Curator and art consultant for The Bronx Council on the Arts, and Contributing and Advisory Editor for Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters
DERRICK ADAMS (b. 1970, Baltimore, Maryland) is an interdisciplinary New York-based artist and former Curatorial Director of Rush Arts Gallery (New York, 1999 – 2009) who explores self-image and its forward project with a focus on the fragmentation and manipulation of structure and surface.
Adams received a BFA from Pratt Institute (Brooklyn) and an MFA from Columbia University (New York). He is a Skowhegan and Marie Walsh Sharpe alumni and a recipient of a 2009 Louis Comfort Tiffany Award and the 2014 S.J. Weiler Award. Adams has exhibited widely nationally and internationally, including at MoMA PS1, New York; CAMH, Houston; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; on numerous occasions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; as well as at Performa 05, 13, and 15.
His work is in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Studio Museum in Harlem, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and the Birmingham Museum of Art; and can be seen at Tilton Gallery, New York; Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago; Galerie Anne de Villepoix, Paris; and online at derrickadams.com.
SHAUN LEONARDO deconstructs the performance of masculine hyper-identity in popular cultures. The performance of manhood is the performance of prescribed actions. Leonardo isolates these actions within contexts in which their performance can be seen as such. The artist challenges normative behavior as it is lived through the body as a matter of social ritual and routine. In his multimedia practice, the artist isolates
specific moments within performances of the male body in states of competition and bravado to examine the ways identity is a constructed through social activities. In this way, Leonardo turns normalized activity (competitive wrestling, for example) into strange actions by creating intersections within these performances of "manhood". The idea of how a man performs heteronormativity no longer has authority but is instead the performance of a socially con- structed idea.
Where Leonardo explores the facade of masculinity, KATE CLARK’s zoomorphic figures examine the pretense of mankind as a species without ties to the possibilities of emotional realities shared with other species. If the creation of hyper-masculine cultures is a response to social anxiety then the vulnerability expressed by Clark’s hybrid creatures is itself the kind of felt response to the shared anxieties that join humans to the natural as animals. In the work of each, bodies become catalysts for strange and unfamiliar worlds of possibility and feeling.
Like Clark, HUGH HAYDEN’s mixed-media sculptures reveal the tensions between civilization and nature. His dif- ferent uses of natural elements (such as agricultural products, feathers and fur) places these materials in states of integration and contention with commercial products and cultural trends. This integration is never seamless and often suggests the end of the taming of the natural world as such. The question of change is also evident in the work of ANDRIA MORALES. Morales is a multidisciplinary artist whose work has dealt with the documentation of gender transitioning, and specifically, the notion of gender identity as something that can be easily interpreted and consumed by the viewer’s assumptive gaze. However, her subjects are the protagonists of their own stories no one should assume to know.
Bodies can also be the sum of desires: the desire to own, the desire to harm, the desire to be felt as well as the de- sire to deny objectification. DOREEN GARNER’s sculptures, videos, and performances, position the black female body as a site of troubling histories where themes of condemnation, deviance, fetishization, and beauty intersect. The artist’s work suggests that the black body’s relationship to Western history is an uncomfortable one. The work is raw. The materials are abundant with loaded meaning. The artist uses a range of materials — such as glass, polyester fiber, Swarovski crystals, condoms, hair weave, pearls, glitter, beads and petroleum jelly — to suggest that bodies can be comprised of what they consume and be undone by the urge to be desired. The effect is a grotesque beauty informed by material cultures and subsumed by the psyche. The work defies objectification, seeking to own the viewer instead.
Similarly, BRANDON COLEY COX’s multimedia sculptures challenge the viewer’s assumption that he or she knows what they’re looking at. Cox makes use of the tensions between the historical meaning and mystical associations of materials, from street posters, to crystals and steel. The artist transforms these materials — steel sheets into shav- ings, crystals into powder — to ultimately form objects that are so curious they defy the viewer’s expectations of those materials. The result is artwork that is paradoxical as it questions man’s relationship to the cosmos; the cosmos’ connection to the Earth, and the assumption that racial, cultural and gen- der identities are also social constructions.
IBRAHIM AHMED’s mixed-media sculptures express the feeling of losing a nation as well as one’s identity and culture. Before immigrating to Freehold, New Jersey, the artist had lived in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Egypt and Kuwait. The feeling of being between nations carries with it the uneasy pressures of being between cultures and histories. Through his work, Ahmed makes deft uses of cultural symbols and forms of language. The resulting work is of curious objects loaded within deep cultural meanings between translations of languages and political circumstances. Liminality does not mean status. The feeling of the work is of dislocation and change. This is to say that his work is as unsettling and dynamic as anything that is successively in motion.
And lastly, both LEONARDO BENZANT and BALINT ZSAKO make work that suggests states of shamanistic ecstasy. Where Benzant’s sculptures communicate very personal interpretations of ancestral histories, systems of beliefs and ritualistic practices from the African dias- pora, Zsako’s vibrant paintings explore a deeply personal netherworld between mind and spirit. Both artists express simultaneous states of sensation, making use of visionary characters and symbols that resonate with emotional energy, color and a vibrant eccentricity. In this way, Something I Can Feel is a collective re-imagining of the body as a vital spaces of radiant activity and activism with radical potential.