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Have you ever wondered whether it’s possible to give yourself a blowjob? Perhaps you’ve tried it. If you’re a woman, you can attempt by popping a baguette between your legs, à la Cheryl Donegan.
Ashes/Ashes has found a clever way of presenting video art: the gallery will show a single work every week during the exhibition. Each installment of BODY PARTS I – V (all works from 1991 to 1998) is summarized by a one-liner that remind of a TV guide, like Man in flat-front trousers pisses himself. Arriving at the gallery’s 2404 Wilshire—a schlep by default in L.A.—you’re damned well going to see that one work all the way through. And you’ll have to do it standing, because the gallerist isn’t fond of chairs.
The discomfort of positioning yourself in a dark chamber-like unit (Nayland Blake’s Gorge) for an hour long video becomes part of this demanding viewing experience. Spoiler alert: you won’t get passive entertainment here. This is inverse television. Handling masochistic topics, the works have an ironic anti-climatic structure that sends up the cliffhanger. You see a man’s buttocks being spanked to deepening shades of red to no avail (Bob Flanagan, Sheree Rose, and Mike Kelley’s 100 Reasons) and a vagina being hair-raisingly de-haired (Patty Chang’s Shaved At A Loss). They’re works that don’t take themselves too seriously. If only that was something you saw more often.
But in spite of all the subversive sexiness as the artists play around with their private parts, it’s the presentation of Body Parts I-V that in the end I find to be the most original and memorable thing about this exhibition. Ashes/Ashes makes you think about how we can engage with video art. They force you to do what the artists do in these works: slow down and concentrate on one thing, for a while.
BODY PARTS I – V runs June 2–July 11 at ASHES/ASHES (2404 Wilshire Boulevard, 1A Los Angeles, CA 90057)