I notice the odd synchronicity creep in here from time to time, where a theme or allusion seems to carry over from one post to the next. It’s especially curious since quite often something will sit in my manage queue for weeks being written and rewritten before it goes live. Mostly I find it unnerving, and worry that people will think I’ve got superstring theory or something on the brain, that I have as I heard someone else described “a mind like a doughnut.” There’s nothing for it this time though because my draft folder is currently empty, so we must segue from the Breath of Life as presented in Eisenberg’s Heaven Show to the periodical cycles of strangulation and resuscitation in Deidre DeFranceaux’s contribution to Body Language II at Sculpturesite Gallery.
It took me quite a while to stumble on them actually since I headed directly to the Pamina Traylor exhibit on the other side of the gallery when I arrived and spent a long time checking out the prickly sheaves of glass. When I finally worked my way back to the front window I found three figures hanging from the ceiling, doubled over with bulging creases. Nearby a fourth and fifth position themselves against one another on the edge of a bed. Rubber tubing snaking out from under the bed terminates in a dangling foot or just below a bent knee of a hunched over body. In the background is the chugging sound of a motor.
Then I just stared for awhile. Slowly the sack-like figure suspended completely from the ceiling begins to stiffen and moving with the measured grace of a dancer slowly lifts her head. In one continuous motion her upper torso follows, until her arm cracks and bends at an unnatural angle, destroying the illusion. After dangling for a bit, both arms now in broken postures, she lowers herself in the same way. You’d think given all the evidence on hand that it wouldn’t be startling, but it is. It’s just air, filling up an empty cavity, but the manner in which the head and shoulders move seems much more real than a construction manipulated by an operator, more real than it should be possible to achieve with a skin of nylon hose and latex and off-the-shelf pneumatics. It is so engrossing to watch that I mostly ignored the anomalous aspects: the sticky peeling apart of the skin, the creak of the latex.
Like The Reacher 1 (who’ll remain for me The Dancer) the male figure behind her is suspended by putty-like shoulder blades and buttocks by thick cords, but his feet are actually planted on the ground seemingly mid-stagger. He begins to move only after The Reacher 1 has completed her stretch. This give and take continues throughout, as if one must die for another to live, or as if their vitality was shared and managed by some prior agreement. Where the other had moved as if in a performance, his deportment projects a personality. He raises his head more briskly before deliberately giving a last shrug of the shoulders to bring himself to a standing posture. Impatiently he lifts his arms and stretches them out before deflating in a heap.
The unrelenting drone of the hidden air pump leads me to speculate that having one of the mannequins in motion while another is at rest isn’t in actuality an indication that air is flowing from one to the next (but I could be wrong), it is just another layer of the illusion. I find it appealing for some reason that someone has to come in every morning and turn on the art. Despite the fact that I’ve seen my fair share of horror films over the years, they never struck me as grotesque. I suppose someone stumbling upon these shapes unexpectedly, passing the front window on the way to work perhaps, might regard them as something horrific, husked human skins or humanity rendered as a carcass on meat hooks, but for me there wasn’t anything Francis Baconesque in their appearance. It might be the dreamy, placid molded expressions on the faces. Certainly once they are in motion each seems to have an individuality distinct from their counterparts. The Reacher 2 for example raises her body tentatively and reluctantly like a person awakening from a long doze. Her somnambulant declination seems to express relief.
It is only the pair arrested at the moment of coupling, perched on the edge of the bed, that give no real sense of mimicry. Partly a result of the fact that either their material is more rigidly sculpted or that they are always nearly inflated already, there are no moments that bring any erotic life to them beyond their initial pose. In fact the woman’s head springs back at one point with a blow-up doll pop and sway. But one can hardly expect them to perform under such conditions.
These are works that really need to be viewed in action to fully appreciate how successful they are. As a kind of side note, I’m reminded of a behind the scenes extra on the DVD of Mamoru Oshii’s film Avalon. In it the filmmakers explain the difficulty they had with one of the final shots in the film. It seems simple enough: a girl gazing at the camera raises her head with a subtle smile playing across her lips. But they found that children simply do not possess the fine motor skills to move their heads smoothly in a continuous, gradual manner. So they simulated it by making a computer mock up of her head and manipulating it digitally. Even reality has a hard time being real.
As much as I enjoyed this exhibit I’m glad writing about it’s done with so I can get to sleep. After all, until I do, someone on the other side of the world cannot awaken.