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Technologies of the Self, the intriguing group show currently on view at Marc Selwyn Fine Art, explores the ways in which the body relates to its real and imagined surroundings through the materially dense and vibrant work of four male artists: Max Hooper Schneider, Tetsumi Kudo, Lucas Samaras, and Paul Thek. The exhibition borrows its title from Michel Foucault’s eponymous 1982 text, wherein the philosopher examines the self-made systems people use to develop knowledge about themselves. In the show’s press release, curator Jay Ezra Nayssan augments Foucault’s theorizations on such “technology” through repeated references to containment and transformation. As the majority of the sculptural works on view act as surrogates for the restriction, compartmentalization, and perception of the self, they dovetail with Nayssan’s preoccupation with systems of constraint. Yet, the plurality of such reflection is itself constrained by the show’s exclusively male lineup.
To transform oneself, Nayssan seems to suggest, one must first know oneself, to know which barriers to transgress. Most compelling both thematically and materially in this regard is Kudo’s Meditation Between Memory and Future (1978), which reveals a face and two hands trapped inside a Day-Glo green birdcage. Inside, a humanoid figure’s eyes are closed in contemplation and its upturned hands offer egg-like forms. Just above the cage, plastic flowers escape in a fit of transgression. As the title suggests, Kudo is ruminating on the dichotomies of past and present, interior and exterior, confinement and liberation. Thek’s Untitled #73 (from the series ‘Technological Reliquaries’) (1964) pushes Kudo’s corporeality to a further extreme: the artist fabricated from beeswax a slab of hairy flesh and then fetishistically imprisoned it within a metal and Plexiglas display case. Thek’s geometric viscera offers an at once revolting and riveting counterpoint to Kudo’s investigations into the body’s limits and transformations.
Meanwhile, Samaras’ container-within-a-container reliquary, Box #132 (1989), trades in horror vacui, or the compulsion to fill all voids with information. While the work is cocooned by multicolor beads, its interior is loaded with vials containing, among other things, beads, pins, strings, and rocks. On the underside of the box’s upturned lid, the artist pasted an eye that gazes out from a mosaic of blue and gold rubble, transforming this sculpture into a voyeuristic organism. Schneider’s Crisis Hotline (2020) electrifies this frenetic corporeality both literally and figuratively, the sculpture’s title rendered in hot-pink neon, its light emanating throughout a zoolike nest. Underneath the searing signage is a network of plastic intestines and chain necklaces that render the work’s terrarium-cum-corpse vibe all the more ominous.
While these works enact an effervescent dialogue in which each work resonates with the next, the pervasiveness of male perspectives casts a pall over the show’s thematic conceit. This patriarchal bent, whether conscious or not, creates a silence that grows progressively loud as one moves throughout the installation. Indeed, the absence of women from any conversation about self-perception and transcendence is undeniably problematic, particularly since the press release proclaims that “this fundamental paradox of containment-transformation has been central to our own narrative for millennia.” Given this universalizing sentiment, the show’s examination of the self within systems of enclosure makes the absence of such figures as Yayoi Kusama, Lynn Hershman Leeson, or Park McArthur (to name only a few) especially felt. In our pandemic age where we have all felt effects of containment, to explore such a universal subject only through the work of men is at best misguided.
Technologies of the Self runs from April 3–May 15, 2021 at Marc Selwyn Fine Art (9953 S. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills, CA 90212).