Serious Play – Playdate at Vox Populi

Noreen has some serious fun looking at a group show of four up-and-coming young artists at Vox Populi. – Artblog Editor

Who is Playdate?

A weekends-only feature for August at Vox Populi, PLAYDATE is Katie Rauth, MacKenzie Clark, Clarissa Caponera, and Lucia Alber, recent college grads who served as Vox interns over the last year. By comparing and contrasting their identities as artists, intellectuals, and internet-users, PLAYDATE champions one strength of the Internet–the autonomy it provides as a global platform for the vulnerable user, the lonely, the self-conscious, the systematically oppressed, and all who find themselves excluded by popular media.

Clarissa Caponera imaage
“E=Cece2 2016,” Clarissa Caponera. Image courtesy of Vox Populi

Dream Teams

As someone who knows and has seen these artists develop their practice, I find many artistic commonalities and formal intersections in the show. In the pairings on view in the multi-room space at Vox, the strongest is undoubtedly the collaboration between Alber and Caponera. PLAYDATE #3 is the work of five months of teamwork, planning, and camaraderie.

Entering the space requires the viewer to part a veil-like curtain made by Caponera and Alber, upon which images of Latex-clad figures reach their arms skyward, forming a temple-like archway. Each figure wears the same short, dark bob hairstyle–a reflection of an online identity spawned by Caponera that she calls “Cece”. The image of Cece is repeated within Caponera’s wall sculpture, “Emancipation of Cece,” and the large photograph, “E=Cece2.” Alber’s floor-sitting sculptures, “Luncheon on the Grass —> Beach Blanket Bunghole” (an ode to Manet’s 1863 painting) and the ‘abstract phallus’ called “Suck! and! Blow!” flank Caponera’s work.

The uncomfortably saccharine loop of The Sim’s Soundtrack Buy Mode #3 floods the room, simultaneously stifling, sterilizing, and fetishizing the content of the work. The artists cite the Internet’s fascination with identity and fetish as part of their brainstorming for their collaboration.

Detail of Luncheon on the Grass ---> Beach Blanket Bunghole, 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi
Detail of “Luncheon on the Grass —> Beach Blanket Bunghole,” 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi

But what new comes from their pairing? Caponera’s work has never shied away from glamour and portraiture. However, her collaborative work seems to have broadened and deepened her subject matter, moving her focus to her own virtual identity at large and how social media affects it.

All about that body

Katie Rauth wall installation
“Better Work,” Katie Rauth. Image courtesy of Vox Populi

In the space labelled PLAYDATE #1, Lucia Alber’s use of baby pink silk, elastic white vinyl, and billowing satin is seductive. I always find myself tempted to touch Alber’s pieces–gold and pink satin sewn taut over plush pillow forms invites me to run my fingers over it. It is impossible not to contemplate my own concepts of the physical, political, and personal body when viewing her work. In PLAYDATE #1 the work of Katie Rauth comes into the conversation. Jerking and relentless motions of Rauth’s “Better Work,” a motorized fabric-twisting sculpture, and the video installation “Sick’ning” similarly reference the body and its mechanics. The body’s connection to our humanity and identity, and the particular pressures put on women to “present feminine” underlies the pairing of these two artists.

Detail of Heartbreaker by Clarissa Caponera, 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi
Detail of “Heartbreaker,” Clarissa Caponera, 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi

The PLAYDATE #2 space features the work of MacKenzie Clark and Clarissa Caponera side-by-side. The vivid floral prints which set the backdrop for Clark’s “Walking Through Flowers,” a low-resolution video of a hand tearing flowers from their stems, amplify the sensuality of ruffled silk in Caponera’s photographs, “I Don’t Know Her (1 & 2),” and dripping honey in her video installation, “Heartbreaker.” In the adjacent room, PLAYDATE #4 streams live footage of gallery goers back to gallery #2 allowing for literal self-insertion and voyeurism.

Vacation/Celebration Blue by Mackenzie Clark, 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi.
“Vacation/Celebration Blue,” Mackenzie Clark, 2016. Image courtesy of Vox Populi.

This last touch (capturing viewers’ images on camera) is the only move that addresses the Internet and self-insertion literally, the show could benefit from more viewer immersion. Otherwise, the undeniable buoyancy and unapologetic femininity of the group’s work keeps PLAYDATE both critical and celebratory.

I am passionate supporter of such honest investigation of identity and Internet phenomena in the work of rising artists in Philadelphia. On a larger scale, I look forward to the growing trend for free expression and inclusivity in online art, literature, and many other forms of media. As Instagram-based writer and artist Audrey Wollen advocates, the Internet has the capability to spotlight what the eye of the art world and mass media continues to ignore. As a space that obscures the boundaries of the private and public, the virtual and actual, it has become a glamorous arena for queer and femme expression–an attribute I can celebrate with in PLAYDATE. We are artists. We are femmes. We are queers. We are the selfie-taking, meme-sharing, vulnerable Internet, and we’re inviting you to PLAYDATE.

PLAYDATE is on view now through August 21st, Gallery hours–Friday through Sunday, 8-11pm, Vox Populi, 319 N 11th – 3rd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19107