Three by Three: Finale

Mon, Jun 6, 2011
View of Pipilotti Rists The Tender Room
View of Pipilotti Rist's The Tender Room

Students in Candace Stout's Art Ed class titled Writing Art Criticism visited the Wex to see the exhibitions Human Behavior, Double Sexus, and The Tender Room this quarter. This post concludes our series of three essays about the three shows written by students in the class. The author is Madelaine Keim, a freshman from Cincinnati, who is studying history of art and anthropology.

My experience of today's visit to the Wexner Center for the Arts was filled with a complex dialogue between immersion and displacement. With a focus on the human body (raw, visceral, and stripped down into its component parts), surely nothing could be more relatable and universal, right? I found this to be true with the video art by Pipilloti Rist entitled The Tender Room. From the multiple panels and projectors that gave rise to Rist's own three dimensional world to the colored screens filtering the natural light coming through the windows, the installation was the epitome of immersion. Feelings of closeness to the subject matter were unavoidable but comfortable. The close-up views of the human body—particularly, of hands—experiencing the sensory high of interacting with nature was not only engaging, but also aesthetically pleasant.

With many works of Double Sexus, however, I experienced the discord between my engagement with the works and the discomfort of such proximity. While absorbing the effects of the many sculptural materials used by Bourgeois and Bellmer, I found myself wanting to run my fingers over the cool granite, feel the weight of the nickel, and grasp at those mysterious polyurethane drips. As a pure form, there is a visceral and tactile attraction to reach out and touch their smooth, rounded protrusions. But upon my own identification of the sexual subject matter, I am struck with the realization and embarrassment of the social taboo I have just contemplated. Rather than the pure and idealized figure in Rist's work, the human form was made shameful and grotesque, sexually exaggerated and abstracted. I am unsettled, and what's worse—as I stare intently at this work I am to criticize—I am made a voyeur. Exactly how much distance am I to have with these works in order to maintain my comfort level? Bourgeois and Bellmer seem to invite this confusion as they ask viewers what depictions of the human body they will deem acceptable and deserving of their association.

As a whole, the exhibitions speak to the versatility of the human form. For flesh that is so saturated with life, ironically, our bodies can be likened to a dry, old sponge—toss one on top of a puddle of toxic emotion and it soaks right up. Our bodies can be made a paragon of perfect beauty or the means for enacting terrifying cruelty and repulsion. We are in fact just as malleable as Nathalie Djurberg's clay puppets.

Complete Image Caption
Pipilotti Rist
The Tender Room, 2011
Audiovisual installation
Installation view, Wexner Center for the Arts
Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth, and Luhring Augustine, New York
Photo: Kevin Fitzsimons