These days, it is difficult to go online without coming across opinion pieces pointing out the darker aspects of competitive society. People succumbing to stress and depression; a labor market growing less and less accommodating for those who fall outside a narrow window; and a managed rat race that celebrates the idea of free, consuming individuals elevated above all structural limitations. If you need an antidote to all this, help is at hand in the form of a delicious little gem of an exhibition at Galleri Susanne Ottesen, celebrating the realm of quiet protest.
Curated by Helga Christoffersen, an associate curator at New Museum in New York, After the Finish Line presents a small slice of the younger contemporary art scenes of New York and Los Angeles. The eponymous piece – a delectable video by Adelita Husni-Bey from 2015 – presents us with a range of young athletes whose university studies hinge upon athletic scholarships. As the video conducts a slow-motion pan across their tense, muscular bodies and the equipment that keeps their injuries at bay, the athletes engage in a kind of group therapy session, telling each other about the fatal consequences that their serious injuries had to their future prospects.
A similar situation is portrayed in Josh Kline’s 10% Tip (Applebee’s Waitress’ Hand and Foot) (2018), a sculptural and video-based portrait of Jenn, a waitress working for the downmarket American fast-food chain Applebee’s. Looking directly at the camera, she speaks about minimum wage, lousy working conditions, and being at work on the night when Donald Trump was elected president. A tray table next to the video displays 3D-printed versions of the parts and objects to which she has been reduced: a fleet foot clad in sensible shoes, a hand taking orders, and a range of the restaurant’s products.
In addition to giving a voice to a young generation whose scope for movement appears strongly limited by political, cultural or physical/bodily structures, After the Finish Line also offers up a range of strategies for quiet resistance.
On the floor, for example, we find Candice Lin & Patrick Staff’s home-built Hormonal Fog (2018), which fills the room with smoke mixed with herbs that supposedly lower testosterone levels. In the back room, three paintings give us glimpses into the kitchens of three Parisian bistros where the chefs leave their dishes to their own devices, engaging instead in intimate homoerotic trysts in a sexy Rococo-like universe devised by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy.
The exhibition distinguishes itself by combining the sexy, cotton candy-colored immediacy typical of the post-internet genre with a tactile physicality imbued with structure, fragrance, and taste. We are far removed from the Berlin Biennale’s shrill, screen-smooth enthusiasm for technology here. This is a cave of erotics, food, and aggression that gently takes hold of me. The totality is nicely summed up in Hannah Levy’s sculptural video installation in which a woman’s hand with long, well-groomed nails tears apart the fragile, fleshy body of an oyster to pry out cultured pearls from its mucous membranes. The beads drip into a porcelain bowl with a delicate sound: ding, ding, ding.
Dressing up private-political strategies of resistance in such a tantalizing and sticky sheen of gastro-pornographic violence has a certain cheeky nonchalance. Adopting this focus, the exhibition does not point to a solution or urge specific action. Gala Porras-Kim’s One clump of raffia reconstructionfrom 2016, a work inspired by an object from Mexican cultural history – a small structure made of hay whose function remains unknown – is an example. Based on this, Porras-Kim has constructed a tactile sculptural form reminiscent of both an architectural model and an organic body. The work adds a new narrative layer to an object that might otherwise have disappeared from museum collections – after all, where do we place things when we don’t know what they are? Thus, the exhibition also illustrates how the most important political movement right now may be precisely the one that does not orient itself towards a particular target. And that is how I leave Galleri Susanne Ottesen: angry, excited, and hungry.