You might be familiar with a famous motif in visual art, that of Thomas, one of the Biblical disciples, sticking his finger into a wound in his newly resurrected master’s side in order to confirm that what he’s seeing—Jesus, risen from the dead—is actually true. “Doubting Thomas,” explains Dan Byers, Director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard “…is an analogy for disbelief, for the relationship between the visual and the tactile. In order to believe, you have to touch the thing…You have to confirm it with your own hands.”
Reflecting life in the US
This need to reach out and touch something, the pervasive sense of disbelief and “skepticism in the face of physical fact,” is very much at the heart of Seeing Believing Having Holding, a group show that Byers curated for Reykjavík’s i8 Gallery. The exhibition brings together five young artists from across the US—Kelly Akashi (Los Angeles, CA) Kahlil Robert Irving (St. Louis, MO), Michelle Lopez (Philadelphia, PA), B. Ingrid Olson (Chicago, IL), and Daniel Rios Rodriguez (San Antonio, TX)—who Byers believes are producing the most interesting art in the US today.
While each artist has vastly different practices, utilizes different media, and addresses different themes, they all, in some way, “touch the wound of our time,” Byers explains, reflecting “what it means to live in [the US] now…what it means to think about one’s personal life in the midst of the current political climate.”
Although one could argue that all American art being produced right now is inherently political, Byers says that he consciously “pulled back from work that [is] explicitly protest art.” The exhibition’s one possible exception is found in the work of Kahlil Robert Irving. Irving’s Small Block – Mixed Melodies (Jason Stockley cant run, Google scroll) takes as its subject protests in St. Louis, Missouri following the 2017 acquittal of police officer Jason Stockley, who shot and killed twenty-four-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith.
Irving took images of these actions collected in a Google image search and layered them atop found objects, decals, and other detritus that he then compressed into a ceramic block—what Byers calls an “archeological core-sample of our present and very-recent past.” You can see Irving’s fingerprints pressed deeply into the surface of the object—indentions that are reminiscent of bullet wounds, perhaps, but which also convey the feeling that the artist is holding not only this object, but also this specific, moment in history in his hands.
So often, Byers points out, images are “unmoored” from their reality, “their reason for being is to travel, to be shared on social media.” But by transposing these images onto a single, physical object, Irving roots them in specific moment, creating a kind of “memory container” for trauma.
The Wound of Our Time
The tactility of Irving’s sculptures is perhaps echoed in the viserality of B. Ingrid Olsen’s work, which explores the “precarity of the body”—the contrasts between “the physical intimacy of molds that have been pressed on your body” and “the rational space of architecture.” Olsen’s Body Parsed takes corporeal fragments—the top of a face, hollowed-out and segmented limbs—and repositions them in relationship to one another and the space they occupy.
Then there are Kelly Akashi’s rather comically sensual “cast bronze finger sculptures…encased in an almost slapstick viscous drip of blown glass.” Here, physicality is in the forefront once again, whether through the actual digits themselves, or through the viewer’s awareness of the tactile process of creation, “in [the] breath and physicality required to blow the glass.”
Though there’s a risk of disconnect, of course, in bringing such disparate works of art together in one exhibition, Byers hopes the show will convey “the range of felt bodily experience…the range of subjective, corporeal experience” that characterizes present-day America.
Info: Seeing Believing Having Holding: A late summer show of five American artists will open at i8 Gallery on August 18, 2018 and will be on view until October 27, 2018.