GOOD WORK GALLERY presents: “The Sputtering Human Shaped Machine”
Curated by: Jerry Blackman
Jan 13 – Feb 19th
Opening reception Friday, Jan 13th, 6 – 9 pm
Featuring work by:
There is a trope within the science fiction film genre where a seemingly human character is revealed to be an android. This is done through any number of techniques: in the Terminator films, the human flesh is burned or blasted off to reveal a shiny chrome robot skull. In the Alien franchise the androids are more fluid-based, and the contrast between the mechanical and the organic forms is more subtle. Some of the androids in Steven Spielberg’s A.I. and similarly in Michael Crichton’s Westworld open cleanly with doors pivoting elaborately at previously unseen seams. Whatever the case, the formal punch of this image is consistently seductive, terrifying, and saturated with visual power and metaphor. It is the moment that our fantasies collapse. It’s the material of a thing’s manufacture articulating itself. A reminder of the ephemerality of all things, and a dark proposal for our frail human futures.
For The Sputtering, Human-Shaped Machine, I’ve asked five artists whose work I know deals with both materiality and science-fiction-themes to consider this prompt and respond with a work however they feel is appropriate. The idea of skins and membranes is pervasive throughout the show, as is the motif of a work’s infrastructure being activated. Phillip Birch’s bust of Constantine quite overtly positions an interior narrative in conflict with an exterior shell. Here Birch is riffing off of the fringe-conspiracy-culture claim that some of primitive civilization’s notable and influential accomplishments might have in fact been the doings of aliens. His response to this is to posit that the modern world too might have had some of it’s figures hijacked by alien intelligence. Constantine, who was the first Roman Emperor to convert to Christianity and, in turn, promote its spread through Europe, is seen here as a hollow skin with an elaborate, cosmic warp within it: like a puppet with an unknowable intelligence at the controls. Alex Bunn’s image similarly plays with the ambiguity of boundaries and the relationship between vessels and what they might contain. Just on the periphery of representation, Bunn builds intricate environments and photographs them for large scale so what we see might be from under a microscope or from an airplane window. Taking cues from medical equipment, horror films, and architectural models, Bunn conjures harrowing moods latent with foreboding and panic. The formal play between surface and interiority is pursued again in Nathaniel Lieb’s ceramic pieces. These barnacle like constructions hang in the gallery like some sort of alien fungus, slowly accumulating and growing to take over the spaceship. Their dirt colored skin provides the perfect incubator for the incongruous textures within. Lieb is a seasoned maker of things often taking simple forms, processes, or materials and pushing them to their limits to arrive at potent metaphors. Maya Manvi’s video Baptismal Font splices differently textured stories ranging from the mythological to the info-graphical in exploration of how bodies arrive at their humanity within the fray of language, image, sound, and science. The work weaves together a brutalist 1970’s water park, the rituals of cells as they collapse breast milk canals (and the ironically dilapidated lab they are studied in), the sculpting of reality TV editors, and a story told throughout 60 years -when, once, a man was cured of his childhood asthma by swallowing a live fish. Together these vignettes explore how soft slippages, decay, and accident make up the machinery of being human. The photographic triptych and companion portrait are part of a larger ongoing project by Deirdre Sargent about social media star Valeria Lukyanova, ‘The Human Barbie Doll’. Lukyanova claims to be an alien life form many thousands of years old who has inhabited scores of human hosts. In interviews between Sargent and her muse, who resides predominantly in Mexico and communicates in Russian through her husband’s broken translation, she continually refutes the possibility of her death. Her highly manicured persona along with her 424k Instagram followers offers some version of this proposal, but the utopian fantasy shows growing signs of weariness as the inevitable rises like the tide.
Phillip Birch, (b. 1978, Detroit, MI) received his BFA from the College for Creative Studies, Detroit. Recent solo exhibitions include Entering God Mode at Essex Flowers, NY and Master Dynamic: Frontier at Lyles and King, NY. He also recently participated in NY’s Sculpture Center’s annual InPractice open call juried exhibition Fantasy Can Invent Nothing New. Birch is adjunct professor at The City College of New York, and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.
Alex Bunn, (b. 1975, London, ENG) lives and works in London and Oslo, NO. His first institutional solo show opened at Trafo Kunsthall, Oslo in 2016 to national critical acclaim. Previously, his work has been exhibited at the Frieze Art Fair, The Royal Institution, and the Victoria and Albert museum in solo shows in London, Oslo, and Oakland as well as group shows in London, New York, Stockholm, Oslo, and Tokyo . His work has also appeared in Aesthetica, I-D, and Nature, among others.
Nathaniel Lieb, (b. 1963, Boston, MA) received his MFA from CUNY Brooklyn College, NY and his BFA from Syracuse University. Exhibitions include Morongo: AZ West’s, High Desert Test Sites, Joshua Tree CA, Governors Island Art Fair, Governors Island NY, Gimme Shelter: Woodstock Birdcliffe Guild, Woodstock NY and IN-SITES: the intersection of art and architecture, South Orange. He was most recently artist in residence at Amherst College, MA.
Maya Manvi, (b. 1987, Los Angeles, CA) works with sculpture, text, and moving image. Their works have been exhibited in San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere. They are currently co editing/curating a year long archiving project of OUT/look an intersectional 1980’s queer publication, that will be exhibited in October of 2017. Manvi received an MFA in sculpture from the Yale University School of Art, New Haven, CT in 2014 and a BFA from UC Santa Cruz, CA in 2009. They are a visiting professor of Sculpture at Caldwell University and lives and work in New York.
Deirdre Sargent, (b. 1985, Boston, MA) received her MFA from Yale University in 2013, and her BFA from Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY in 2008. Recent solo and two-person shows include You Should Know When to Laugh at 315 Gallery, NYC, Island Girl on Video, AC Institute, NYC, and Mod Coms at The Arta Center Gallery, MA. She is adjunct professor at The College of New Jersey and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.