Curated by Matt Morris, Let Me Be an Object that Screams brings together a range of works by contemporary artists in order to test psychoanalytic concepts of ‘subject-hood’ and the ways a subject’s counterpart, the ‘object,’ is animated by artistic and exhibition practices. The exhibition proposes subversions to how political and psychic power have been traditionally and consistently distributed in accordance to who is perceived to operate with agency and thought, in contrast to the disinvestment of groups and communities read as “other.” Particularly, the persistent privileges of white masculinity are problematized across feminist, queer, and racially critical inquiries. Through sculpture, installation, photography, and video, historical counter-narratives and accounts of the artists’ own lived experiences shift emphasis off of the typical subject, while elsewhere projects reject subject-hood in favor of stranger possibilities of an object that misbehaves—or “screams,” as the exhibition title (quoted from Ukrainian-Brazilian author Clarice Lispector) describes.
In Let Me Be an Object that Screams, typically tidy conceptual divisions between how humans and objects exist are troubled. Alternative strategies of resistance to dominant systems of power are formed in the materials of the artworks themselves. All the while, this group of artists hold close to the difficult memories that, according to scholar Uri McMillan, “our history is one in which humans were reduced to things (however incomplete that reduction)” through slavery, xenophobia, sexism, and other systems of oppression, many of which are ongoing.
Through a curation supported by close examination and critiques of psychoanalytic theory developed by Freud, Lacan, Klein, Winnicott, Fairbairn, and Bion, the artworks in this exhibition look beyond the strictures and symptoms of a present-day oppressive society for yet unexplored psychological and political possibilities in and through objecthood. To do so, the exhibition will develop ideas across three sections: one in which the content of so-called ‘object relations theories’ are reconsidered, a second that fantasizes the erotic possibilities of preferring to be an object, and finally a group of artists whose works question the object’s function within exhibition design, supported by more recent philosophical developments of ‘thing-theory’ and ‘object-oriented ontologies.’
Throughout Terry Adkins’ practice, the artist drew forward obscure, forgotten, and misunderstood figures in history by translating the events and particulars of their lives into assemblage sculptures. Contextualized by this exhibition, Adkins’ sculpture Tonsure physicalizes interior thought and slips between the self-recognition of subjects and the objects Adkins has imbued with abstractions of personhood.
Jeff Gibson reflects on the power of the desired object in product photography that circulates densely through the shared cultural, symbolic, and psychological marketplaces of the Internet. Gibson arrays images of objects that float in the anxious white vacuum of product photography—forms with only distant context, ripe for projections and longing. These images are here shown as freestanding signage, running through the exhibition space along the border between exterior representation and inner appetites.
Jennifer Chen-su Huang shifts shapes, dissolves structures, and compounds meanings in her installations. Goo goo too is an inventory of fragments arranged across overlapping platforms and sheets marked out with tracings from the space in which it is sited. Here is a sand garden; there is a disjointed toolbox. Huang’s material language takes as a premise that objecthood (and other forms of being) is always partial and rarely definitive. Temporary relationships between delicate, slight things enact content in flux. Curious, viscerally sensual, and responsive to incidental conditions of its display, Huang’s work is a blend of excitable experimentation and perverse curation of a world in pieces.
In two video works, Isabelle McGuire proposes empowerment through performing as an object and rejecting the pretense and false promise of conventional subjecthood. In 3 Women, McGuire constructs an engrossing and unsettling narrative around commissioned fetish art renderings of themself made by an artist they met online who uses the moniker HellResident. In other parts of McGuire’s practice, they perform the fetishizations of “squishing” as well as behaving as extra-human objects. The video Love Me Harder features the artist transformed into a lip-syncing white balloon as a radical proposal for new ontologies and self-transformation.
Catalina Ouyang delves into the interstices of subjugation, gender, monstrosity, and race relations through a series of sculptures that will be displayed in the hands of a group of whom the artist designates ‘white dudes’ during the exhibition’s opening reception. A positionality that has long enjoyed social supremacy is scripted into the supportive role of a pedestal for Ouyang’s objects, which the artist describes as “images of female villains, villainhood being so often a coded way to refer to either strong or abused women.” ‘White dudes’, a Medusa head, two clawed hands, and small heart-shaped vials hung from chains conspire toward telling of the all-too-real symbolic violence that characterizes globally circulated myth and fairytale.
Leonard Suryajaya makes photographs and videos that result from elaborately fantastical scenes enacted with his family, partner, and other volunteers. Densely layered images of pattern, color, ritual, prosthetics, constructed scenery, and makeshift costumes serve as a means to process memories of social control and nationalist identity exerted upon Suryajaya’s family in Indonesia as well as the artist’s own sexual explorations. Personal attachments are performed within the artist’s rich erotic imagination where oral fixations, surreal nudity, and consensual objectification build into alternative, inner realms.
Friday, September 8, 5-8pm - Opening Reception
Saturday, September 16, 2pm - Curator's Tour with Matt Morris
Exhibit open from September 8 - October 21, 2017
400 South Peoria Street (MC 034)
Chicago, IL 60607
1st Slider: "Untitled (bread, air intakes, bearings; donuts, bicycle seats, blue pumps)", 2015 by Jeff Gibson & "Untitled (lawn mowers, loafers, jetskis; massage chairs, tricycles, strollers)", 2015 by Jeff Gibson
2nd Slider: "Love Me Harder, 2015 (still)" by Isabelle McGuire
Photos courtesy of the artists & Gallery 400