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The first image that viewers witness on arriving at NOON Projects, before even entering, is the back of Ben Borden’s On A Thinness (event MKV) (2023), hung in the gallery’s alley-facing window. The artist has suspended viscous swaths of honey, glycerin, and algae in biopolymer over steel plaques sprayed with chemicals that result in a reaction that produces the historic shade of Prussian blue (from which the fatally toxic compound cyanide was derived). Entering through the gallery’s doors, viewers then observe the rich blue—the first modern synthetic pigment—from the front of the painting. The blue swirls in a Petri dish-like soup alongside amorphous hues of brown and white. As if illuminated from within, the painting is backlit by the natural light that seeps in from the window. The scent of liquid beeswax accompanies this encounter, wafting up from a bowl in which the substance is kept perpetually in liquid form by a flower-shaped hanging lamp (Frustrated kenosis, 2023).
Borden’s works hang alongside paintings by Anja Salonen in this two-person exhibition, titled Angel Pierced. Both artists’ works evoke the kind of intoxicating ecological reactions produced by the nonhuman world, from which humans and other lifeforms might derive aesthetic pleasure, catharsis, or even ecstasy bordering on the saintly. But they also remind us of the poisonous underbelly of such phenomena: the toxic wastelands made by our oil spills, chemical leaks, and general environmental disregard.
Other works by Borden also glow: Window (event mkv) (2023) mimics the form of a window via hidden LED light panels and candelabrum (event mvk) (2023) is lit by way of actual candles. Whether paintings or sculptural sconces, all of Borden’s works contain self-generating chemical reactions that will continue to evolve throughout the exhibition. The motif of inner radiance resonates with Salonen’s series of effervescent paintings. Each painting in her triptych, Chimera (Ecstasy of Saint Theresa) (2023), is fitted with a bespoke frame made by Borden. The rightmost painting features a loose representation of the titular saint in her iconic shroud, though her face is obscured by a hand holding up a flower. The title references a 1647–52 sculpture by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, located in an aedicule of the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. Bernini’s sculpture is lit from a concealed window so that St. Theresa’s face, cast in religious rapture bordering on the erotic, appears bathed in a heavenly light.
More illumination is at play in Salonen’s diptych on the opposite wall, in which a faceless aquatic angel rises from a vibrant red-blue sea and a bioluminescent green wave crests over a swimming figure (Red Tide and Algae Bloom, both 2023). The swimmer’s body reflects the kaleidoscopic colors of the surrounding waves, the human colliding with the verdant and spectacularly nonhuman in an encounter that verges on the sublime. Salonen’s imagery and titles—which here reference luminous yet potentially poisonous hues produced by natural phenomena—recall the self-generating chemical reactions in Borden’s paintings. These phenomena, as they appear in both artists’ work, produce effects that are at once alluring and noxious, like the otherworldly crimson of Salonen’s red tide algal blooms. The angel lurking behind the ensemble of work is resolutely nonhuman, its authorship ecological. Stirred up by the myriad effects of overpopulation and climate change, oceans, bacteria, and flora take their turn at playing God: The result is a hallucinogenic wash of both beauty and blight.
Angel Pierced runs from February 16–March 25, 2023 at NOON Projects (951 Chung King Rd., Los Angeles, CA 90012).