- Robert Rauschenberg's "Autobiography"
Daniel Spoerri's 1969 film Resurrection starts with a close-up of a pile of brown mush, which de-coils and rises as a continuous mass, sliding into a man's ass in a smooth singular motion. Next, a steak is un-eaten, each bite glued back to the larger whole with a knife. Things continue going in reverse like this: Steak returns to raw in a frying pan, then re-attaches to a slab of cow; the slab of cow re-joins the cow itself and a butcher works his instruments to puzzle the carcass back together; the cow is lowered to the ground from a rope around its ankle and walks backwards, from slaughter house to pasture, where there's one last close-up of feces— this time traveling upwards, plop by plop, back into the cow.
Here, in a bit more detail than you might want, Spoerri follows the body as a process of physical forms passing through one another. This examination of the body is the central focus of Scarecrow, the current exhibition at Reed's Cooley Gallery, which opens tonight from 6 to 8 pm. Scarecrow aims to explore the human form in ways which "reorder and transgress physical and social conventions," and it's not all close-ups of shit.
Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg, Lynda Benglis, and more on Scarecrow after the jump.
On view at Cooley is a collection of Polaroid pictures taken by Andy Warhol between 1970 and 1985. The photographs are predominantly portraits. In a set of nine Polaroids, a woman is shown with longer hair in each shot, illustrating the body as a kind of ever-changing exhibition space. The common thread amongst the sets of Polaroids from the Warhol collection is the depiction of the body in its multiples, whether it's shown theatrically in makeup, or as a pure, spacetimey sort of thing.
"Autobiography," a triptych by Robert Rauschenberg, defines the body as a mechanistic narrative stage. In the first panel, an X-ray of Rauschenberg mixes with his astrological chart, while parts of machines float in the margins; in the second panel, a narrative poem coils around a childhood picture of the artist like a thumbprint; and in the last, Rauschenberg is shown performing, while his iconic cube motif is stamped over the photo. Here, the body is a narrative of changes, telling a story through its relationship to itself.
Where Rauschenberg sees the body as story-like, Mary Bauermeister's "Rainbow (Cancer)" treats the human form as a spiritual interruption. Messy scribbles of what looks like crayon, create rainbow-hued patterns. Handwritten text is incorporated throughout: "Cancer can be caused by the trauma" is interrupted by an illustration of cancer cells, continuing "of a spiritual person having to live on the material plane." Bauermeister seems to will her own death, while also recognizing the impact of such an event on her life.
Possibly the most jarring and strange of the show, Lynda Benglis's 1976 film The Amazing Bow Wow shows the body as something to be rigorously corrected into its expected, conventional forms. The film tells of a hermaphroditic dog who is kept as a sideshow act. As the film develops a loose narrative, the viewer learns that the dog can in fact talk, and in a strange twist, the host of the sideshow (for whatever reason) decides to correct the dog's anatomy, though accidentally cuts off the dog's tongue, rather than its penis. While the film itself makes very little sense outside of the context of Scarecrow's thematic "body," within this context, a lot is said about the cultural maintenance of our physical sex binaries (and the violent forms that maintenance can take).
While Scarecrow provides no single overarching statement about the body, it does act as a significant history lesson, bringing together Pop, Fluxus, Feminist, and other contemporary artists and movements, which are loosely united through their reaction to various bodily traumas. Also on view are works by Sol LeWitt and Lloyd Reynolds, plus additional pieces by the artists mentioned above.
The Cooley Gallery is located inside Reed's library at 3203 SE Woodstock Blvd, and Scarecrow is open through June 9th. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Sunday, from noon to 5 pm.