Perambulating the Bounds

Friday, December 09, 2005

Last Weekend's Revelation Thanks to the Secret Show

The Secret Show group currently has an exhibit of work by art students at MTSU and Sewanee. It’s a great idea, since these guys are so close but people in Nashville aren’t going to see what they are up to the same way the students at Watkins are visible.

I didn’t get a great look at the show, and I hope I’ll get a chance to go by again before they take it down. The work that stuck out the most for me was by Jacqueline Meeks, who I think is at MTSU. One piece was four dead feeder mice, hung by their tales from pins in the wall. Each had been frozen in water, I’m pretty sure just in an ice cube tray. Each mouse wore a block of ice that was slowly melting. Seeing them impaled on the wall was just a bit gruesome, but definitely worked in poetic ways. The feeder mice are sacrifice animals, sold as a pet supplies for things like snakes that need live food, or in lab experiments. They seemed to be carrying the ice as a burden, and being slowly relieved of that burden in a streak of water down the gallery's drywall.

Her other piece was a video showing a man seated, no shirt, facing away from the camera. His back was marked with a grid, and a fully dressed woman worked her way across his back, planting a hickey in each square. She converted an act of passion, or at least of teenage making out, into a technical exercise. Still, there was some tenderness in the way she approached him, put her hands on him gently to steady herself while she loudly sucked on his skin. And the tenderness was balanced by the inherent violence of a hickey, possibly the most common form of sado-masochistic practice. In addition to setting up these tensions, this is one of those pieces that establishes art historical references in a sly and simple way. The grid line is of course the painter’s grid from the Renaissance, used for the same purposes, to position the artist’s marks. It’s just she’s making marks with her mouth and teeth (or those of a stand-in). Bob Durham also pointed out a similarity to photos by Joel-Peter Witkin, and I think I know the ones he’s talking about, looking at sitter from the back. And it’s a good allusion all around, emphasizing the presence of disfiguration and deviant sexual practice. Of course the cleverness of Meeks’ piece is that the “deviant” erotic practice here couldn’t be any more common. Makes a similar point, just from another direction.

I spent too much time at the opening jawing and didn’t get a great look at everything. Hopefully they’ll have some open hours for the gallery and I’ll get over there at the right time (always a challenge for me).

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