(n)either (n)or at the Curatorial Lab was an early in-your-face lesson on material relations in space. Mute artworks, selected by jury with a specific curatorial trajectory in mind, spoke up as curators worked on placement in the gallery; calling out to us and each other with a clear, if unexpected, direction for an exhibition on liminality. The artworks self-organized as a palindrome to emphasize multiple, complex readings.
Leigh Merrill’s The Palm Tree (Dallas TX, 2014), and Eleen Lin’s The Wall (New York NY, 2014), reconfigure our sense of depth and surface with puzzling and delicate juxtapositions between “wish-landscapes” and inert walls. In a parallel investigation of surface and depth, Annelies Kamen’s photographic replica of a road formerly marking the border between Germany and the Netherlands stretches across the floor. Titled Plot: Enschede Knalhutteweg Defunct Border Road Median (Berlin, 2014) the piece required onsite assembly of individual paper prints of each paving stone, sent from Kamen’s studio in Berlin. Using the “flat” quality of copy paper, Kamen evokes the deep “plot” of controlling structures that, in her words, “persist, in hushed tones, to mark Europe’s internal borders.”
Exploring the relationship between language and experience through categories that racialize, value, and gender persons and objects, Brittney Leeanne Williams’ oil painting, Tape Smiles and Peace Signs (Chicago IL, 2011), delves into the conflicting emotions sparked by misrecognition and otherness. In this piece, Williams draws from her experience as an African American attending a Chinese immersion school in Alhambra, California. In Auction Blocks (Milwaukee, WI, 2015), Daniel Fleming questions the unstable standards and institutional categories that determine the changing values of art. Following a similar conceptual path, Re-ordering the Museum: Polyvalent Gender Cultures in Traditional Asian Statuary (Berlin, 2015) by art historian Isabel Seliger presents the body as a “non-fixated place” rather than a set of binary gender differences.
The interdependence between death and birth was articulated by two bookended videos: Offering (Steuben, WI, 2013) by Mandy Cano Villalobos (co-directed by Aaron Henderson), and Death Tourist Rising (Chicago, Switzerland, 2014) by Vanessa Gravenor, which illustrate the rupturing and quotidian labors of care demanded by the newborn and the dying body. The dialogue between two photographic images introduces the transformative nature of the flesh – the countless rebirths and metaphorical deaths experienced during a single life span: Carly Zufelt’s Self-Medication (Tucson AZ, 2011) doubles her body as both therapist and patient in a single photograph, inhabiting both female and male characters. Corey Dunlap’s Gak Series: Blue (Los Angeles, 2014) captures the fleshy and unstable appearance of gak, an elementary school polymer that seems to melt the material differences between the corporeal and the synthetic. In a related theme, the east wall explores the relationship between creation and destruction. Giang Pham’s Nation’s Burden (Gainesville FL 2014) superimposes rice over archival photographs from the Vietnam War to compare the body’s relationship to food and conflict – highlighting how sources of nourishment for some are intrinsically tied to the suffering of others.