Under the Skin – Porous Coverage at Fjörd

Evan reviews the the works on view at the current show at Fjörd, which range from the unapologetically visceral to the unsettlingly suggestive. They all seek to get under the skin of our collective ideas about the body and embodied experience. – Artblog Editor

From fishnet stockings to projected video and canvas altered unnervingly to resemble human skin, the five artists in Porous Coverage at Fjord–Wesley Chavis, Sarah Coote (Curator), J. Avery Theodore Daisey, Anthony Iacono, and Rachel Klinghoffer–interrogate the illusion of human wholeness, whether corporeal or spiritual. The result is unsettling and enticing, calling on the viewer to reconsider their own body plus mind in relation to the show’s individual pieces and its overall context.

Foreground: Rachel Klinghoffer, Background: Anthony Iacono. Image courtesy of Fjörd.
Foreground: Rachel Klinghoffer, “Ya’ Look Good to Me” and “Busy Tryin’ to Charm.” Background: Anthony Iacono, “Man with Belt.” Image courtesy of Fjörd.

The body electric

A sly group of paintings by Anthony Iacono relies on process and fine-tuned sexual imagination for its punch. The small works sit on one long gallery wall, and depict strange and surveillance-y closeups of almost erotically charged mundane scenes (a pencil balanced on an ear or a tie draped over a torso). They are attractively colorful and misleading in their perceived flatness and normalcy. In fact, the works are minutely textured collages of individually colored and cut shapes, each placid scene disrupted by an extreme delicacy of shape placement, some pieces placed like a touch meant to send an electric charge through the body. Engaging the mind in reverie, for example, are the the tip of the tie tucked into the waistline of the ambiguous wearer, or in another painting, a similarly ambiguous man’s hand clutching the end of his belt over his lap.

Sarah Coote, Schoolgirls. Image courtesy of Fjörd.
Sarah Coote, “Schoolgirls.” Image courtesy of Fjörd.

In an act of recontextualization similar to what Iacono does only without the electric charge, Sarah Coote paints actresses from online porn sites dressed as schoolgirls in heterosexual porn films. By cropping the compositions tightly to focus on the face and organizing the small works in a grid with paintings of other girls, she removes the sexual nature of their origin and instead nurtures an entirely separate dialogue. They appear to converse with one another, fetishised characters given new independence and autonomy as well as a new community of equals. The politics of the piece are apparent once you know the origin of the source material.

J. Avery Theodore Daisey, 2-channel video projection, "hi, i don't understand, okay, bye (you don't own my history)" and "i don't either." Image courtesy of Fjörd.
J. Avery Theodore Daisey, 2-channel video projection, “hi, i don’t understand, okay, bye (you don’t own my history)” and “i don’t either.” Image courtesy of Fjörd.

Connected at the hip

J. Avery Theodore Daisey’s adjoining and contemplative dual video projections, “hi, i don’t understand, okay, bye (you don’t own my history)” and “i don’t either” occupy a dark corner of the gallery and are perhaps the strongest works on view. The two works are connected at the hip with flowing texture and fractured imagery of clouds and the celestial, shot from below or shifting in perspective and moving in slow motion. Two separate streams of soft and fluid audio tones and male/female voice play over one another and in unstructured communication, floating over the video and around the room, the voices’ muffled and ambient noise going in and out of legibility. Each almost feels like a dream, transmitting to the other indiscriminately and unrestrained–a “beautiful tribute to miscommunication” as Coote put it to me. Capable of nudging you into a trance-like state, the lush visual and aural embrace encapsulates human intimacy and secrecy and suggests what we say is not always what is heard.

Foreground: Wesley Chavis, "The Oily Wrapping of Us." Background: Sarah Coote, "Schoolgirls" and J. Avery Theodore Daisey's video projections. Image courtesy of Fjörd.
Foreground: Wesley Chavis, “The Oily Wrapping of Us.” Background: Sarah Coote, “Schoolgirls” and J. Avery Theodore Daisey’s video projections. Image courtesy of Fjörd.

Dealing most directly and viscerally with the corporeal, Wesley Chavis’ floor piece, “The Oily Wrapping of Us,” which appears to be a pale animal hide, speckled with grit and splotches of faded pink-ish hue, is in fact a portion of raw canvas altered with pigment, red wine, cocoa butter, baby oil and seabreeze. The weave of the canvas laid on the floor itself brings to mind pores on the skin of some unfortunate person, hunted down and skinned, their dermis destined to adorn some distant dwelling. Once the shock of this piece wears off, the underlying concept–that we are all animals–is obvious. Indeed, our oily wrappings are just that.

Perhaps the least affecting work in a show seemingly about the body is Rachel Klinghoffer’s totemic sculptures made from found lingerie, beads, stones, lace, and other detritus found in the artists studio. Yes, our bodies are walking totems covered with wrappings selected for symbolic reasons and in order to construct identities, but the work seems to lack conceptual depth beyond this.

Sarah Coote met members of Fjörd after graduating from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in 2013, eventually becoming a member of the collective herself. This exhibition, she states, was inspired by a common thread addressing surface, the body, and “queering of mundane objects and space” in the work of the artists–most of whom are current or former graduate students at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

All five artists’ work collectively covers (porously) the surface of the gallery itself. In fact the physical space itself becomes a porous “skin” to uphold the show. The success here is that Porous Coverage is itself porous, i.e., hardly a conclusive statement at all. Rather, with ample opportunity for flexibility and expansion, we are reminded to examine the intrinsic fragility of the nature of “wholeness” in the realm of our constructed objects, spaces, and selves.

Porous Coverage is on view until October 20, 2016 at Fjörd, 1400 N. American St., STE 105 Philadelphia, PA 19122.