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Over the last decade or so, a new branch of the horror genre—so-called “elevated horror”—hit the zeitgeist with a newly-intellectualized flair. Unfolding in proximity to this winking rebrand, Aimee Goguen’s art practice embraces many of the genre’s trappings but does something arguably more interesting: deprioritize the element of fear. Chock full of slime and goo and playful gestures towards fetish and mutilation, Goguen’s Mountain of the Collapse offers body horror without the horror, positing grotesqueness and decay first and foremost as sites of comfortable intimacy.
Framed, somewhat tentatively, as a mid-career survey, the show spans Goguen’s works from 2005 to the present and includes several types of animation, drawings, sculpture, and video installations. Ceramic works abound: knobs and nodules grow from corners and walls like mushrooms, poopy little piles appear as if left behind by dogs, and gloppy pancakes sit atop monitors like joke-shop barf. Recent drawings use a sparse style to depict the evolution of an overflowing dumpster (trash 01, trash 02, trash 04, all 2022) and the eventual supremacy of creepy crawlies (trash of worms, mountain of maggots, maggot feast, all 2022).
Twenty-four globular, mutant sculptures dominate one wall of the gallery. They are made of crash helmets modified nearly beyond recognition through frothy combinations of painted latex, rubber, foam, cotton, children’s toys, and costume parts (teeth, masks, wigs, etc.). First made for a live-action work that was never realized, the helmets became the basis for Goguen’s digital collage animation mountain of the collapse (2022), which zaps through each of the helmets at whirlwind speed. Projected onto another wall, the cartoonishly animated unidentified mass (2022) shows a colorful (unidentified) accumulation tumbling from right to left in an infinite loop like a rogue katamari.1
Goguen’s animations bridge her sculptural and screen work, but it’s her videos with human subjects that give her conglomeration its momentum of care. Displayed on clusters of monitors arranged like friends at a party, these works show Goguen’s collaborators in various acts of intimacy and “deviance,” from a tongue sliding across a wooden dowel (reminiscent of John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, 1972) to a group ass-slapping session. While Goguen’s approach recalls the abject tendencies of predecessors like Robert Gober, Mike Kelley, and Paul Thek, their work often exudes a spirit of menacing confrontation and/or some flavor of auto-voyeurism. By contrast, Goguen’s shorts capture something other, which feels liminal, exploratory, and radically sweet. Originally shot on Hi8, dogs of church (2014) comingles the edginess of sexualized punishment with the safe familiarity of a home video. Goguen can be heard directing two sometimes-giggling friends as they pour a jizzy cream over the bare rump of a third friend and then spank her repeatedly. Goguen’s tone is nurturing when she asks her friend, “Does your butt hurt yet?” The audio is critical in relaying the hominess of the scene and its identity not as porn or even predominantly art, but as a document of artist-friends “messing around” within the parameters of their own relationship.
Alternately goofy, violent, and familiar, each of Goguen’s works chips in to conjure a sense of the tender-disgusting, a space where collectivity, protection, threat, and deterioration cohabit in relative harmony. If everyone’s trash is in the same dumpster, we must all be living together. Body horror, after all, is predicated on each of us having a body—one that at least has moments of shared legibility. Goguen seems to suggest that the oozy, woozy, holey body may be less of a cause for alarm and more just what it is: how the shit gets out, and the love gets in.
Aimee Goguen: Mountain of the Collapse runs from October 8–December 17, 2022 at JOAN (1206 Maple Ave. Ste. 715, Los Angeles, CA 90015).