Jul 31, 2017

Lauren, Lila, Ginny, Jessi

Lauren Bakst

I. Architectures of Invisibility

“When she closed the door behind her and, as if she were inside a white cloud of steam that made her invisible, took the metro to Campi Flegrei, Lila had the impression that she had left a soft space, inhabited by forms without definition, and was finally heading toward a structure that was capable of containing her fully, all of her, without her cracking or the figures around her cracking.”

This is the part where she leaves the oppressive, abusive, beautifully furnished home with the husband to join her lover, the intellectual, in a cheap and dirty apartment. She hopes that this alternative domestic structure, and the promise of love, will be capable of “containing her fully.” The sensitive lover presents himself as someone who wants all of her, and so she enters this new structure without restriction. It becomes clear, painfully quickly, however, that this is not the case. The intellectual is unable to live in the shadow of her fullness, so he, too, cracks.

She is Lila, a character in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Would there, could there ever be a structure possible of fully containing her? I, too, have felt that hazy fog of inhabiting structures that render me invisible, sometimes to the point that I might mistake my erasure for the norm. It’s kind of like that scene from Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry when Robin Williams plays the “actor out of focus.” He’s just a little blurry, a little soft, a little faded. In the film, he appears to himself and others as, quite literally, out of focus.

Lila, though, has to work to see the people and things around her as defined by distinct shapes and borders. For her, these boundaries are not solid; rather, they are an illusion—one that most of us maintain without thinking but that she must actively grasp on to in order to function. It’s funny—I often encounter phrases like crossing boundaries! Blurring boundaries! Breaking boundaries! This language tends to be used positively and implies that there is some subject who is capable of such a task, but in Lila’s experience of the world, boundaries are a kind of unreality that uphold a particular order of the world. This order is ultimately false, yes—but the edges of things function to mask the horror and violence that enable our current paradigms to continue. To let oneself be fully touched by that reality could bring on a kind of irretrievable fracture.
Ginny Casey_Balancing Act

Ginny Casey, Balancing Act, 2017 (detail). Oil on canvas, 70 x 75 inches. Courtesy the artist and Half Gallery, New York.

II. Feeling Form

I walked into Ginny Casey & Jessi Reaves at the Institute of Contemporary Art and found myself circling the room. With each rotation, I would find a new way of seeing and experiencing the work. Can I see, or better yet, sense Reaves’s practice through the way my body makes contact with one of her furniture objects? I found myself resistant to looking at her sculptures from a distance—rather, I wanted to be close, peering into a glitter-covered cavity or finding a note scribbled on the foam. I meditated on Casey’s paintings while reclining horizontally on Reave’s Ottoman with Parked Chair & Ottoman. I wondered what it would feel like for these furnishings and paintings to fill a home or place I would live—but slipping into that mode is a little too easy. Perhaps the exhibition is proposing another kind of domestic imaginary rather than anything as literal as another way to furnish one’s apartment.

I found myself thinking of Ferrante’s Lila—Lila who, was “most frightened” by the ways in which “people, even more than things, lost their boundaries and overflowed into shapelessness.” In Casey’s paintings, disconnected body parts and domestic objects co-mingle and float alongside one another on equal planes. Did these images illustrate Lila’s experience of people losing their form? Not quite. Shapelessness is not the same as differentiation. The parts are disjointed but remain whole unto themselves, and I think that for this reason Lila might find comfort in them. If domestic architectures will perpetually fail to contain us fully, maybe there is a way in which they can hold our parts. After all, the body presented as a unified whole is also a kind of illusion. Our skeletal structure is made up of joints–spaces between bones. It is in these between-spaces where movement and relation occur.

Like in Casey’s paintings, the spaces between parts tell us something about the desires, movements, directions of each. The blue knife and the blue foot point towards each other; the lonely finger emerges vertically through the pink rings. Evacuated of a figure or subject, there is a sense that in Casey’s images, these things—whether they be a foot, hand, or unidentifiable object—feel and move of their own accord. The blue saw cutting through the baby blue table; two floating hands cut off from arms but still somehow active, grasping.

Lounging on Reaves’s ottoman while considering Casey’s imagery, I really wanted to turn the lights out. Could I take away the white walls and bright lights and imagine this exact installation as a dive bar? More than an apartment or a gallery, I found myself desiring a social space, a public space. I’d be there with a close friend or lover, sitting too closely, drinking a cheap beer in a subtle light from an awkwardly placed lamp, contemplating the abstract separation of parts that somehow make me feel whole.
Ginny Casey & Jessi Reaves Install 2

Ginny Casey & Jessi Reaves, 2017, installation view, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania. Photo: Constance Mensh.

Lauren Bakst is an artist working in the expanded field of dance and performance.