Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Let's Get Physical: Emily Peacock at the Hello Project

Dean Liscum

It's bad manners and it goes against all art world decorum but you just want to touch the photographic works in Emily Peacock's exhibition Soft Diet at the Hello Project. The works beg you to gently run your finger tip over the crevices of teeth, to press your palm into the pile of finger nail clippings, to smear the jello from edge to edge, to write your name in the pink and white smears. But it's not your fault, it's hers. She wants you to.

Incisor, Canine, Premolar, Molar, 30 x 38 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum 2014

Gently Cleans, 20 x 20 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum

Even though that's a weak-ass excuse to offer any docent, it's true. Peacock acknowledges the imminent extinction of the snapshot, of the photograph as a physical object, a picture on a piece of paper. This exhibition attempts to recapture their fleeting prominence and presence in our lives. The physicality of Peacock's photos is purposeful and stunning. The images are strikingly sensual. The sculptural composition of the photographs of objects placed on top of other photographic images are so sharp and present as to engage one's sense of the hyperreal. Your impulse is to touch them. But you can't because they're just photographs.

These are nostalgic images for Peacock and for us. For Peacock, who often works within her own personal history either using friends and family members to recreate works as in her series You, Me, and Diane and Pieta or as subject themselves as in Reenactments and A Matter of Kinship, they are her story. For us, they are popular images from the culture of our youths, the not too distant past of ball pits and Thanksgiving Day rituals. Peacock's obfuscation of these images with food and finger nails make it unsettling and immediate tapping into the vague memories of what should have been childhood nirvana but wasn't.

Refrigerate Until Served, 30 x 45 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014 

As I've already alluded to, the technical mastery casts its own sensual spell.

Nail Appearance, 30 x 45 inches, Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014

Beyond the expert execution of these images and their acknowledgement of physical photograph's cultural attrition, there is a second layer of meaning, a second attempt at salvation, the battle against mortality. In her statement about the show, Peacock mentions that she started making the series when her mother was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. She confronts it with all her humanity. Her most potent weapon in this battle is the video.

Soft Diet, 5:22, Looping Video, 2014

In the eponymous video Soft Diet, she uses a combination of sexuality and silliness. A pair of gloved hands stroke, caress. and massage a jello mold like the ones served at hospitals. As the video progresses, the hands move more vigorously, until the fingers penetrate and destroy it.

In the Iodine Money Shot Challenge, Peacock conflates the porn industry's money shot trope with the icebucket challenge craze. She uses iodine as her currency, which moves the video's anticipatory antics of heavy breathing and wide-eyed staring from sexual satisfaction or charity martyrdom to the anxiety of a patient awaiting the dressing of a wound or an ominous prognosis. And yes, it's as disturbing and poignant as it sounds.

Distribution and Habitat, 2:07, Looping Video, 2014

In Distribution and Habitat, a hand covered in an institutional blue glove opens to reveal an earthworm that then slowly crawls away from its confines. Metaphorically it could be us fleeing our own mortality or the medical institutions that attempt to protect and profit from that mortality.
My Father, 14 x 20 inches, Archival Giclee Prin,t 2014 

My Father is a photograph that directly addresses the subject of mortality. Its composed of two images. One images portrays him softly, blurred in the foreground while focusing on the lush scenery behind him. The other image portrays him in sharp detail revealing every wrinkle and pore in front of a dark, shadowy landscape. This photographic diptych captures the essence of the videos and her artistic strategy against loss and mortality. She combats it with life in all its sensuousness, sexuality, and humor.

Peacock's biographical information helps in the deconstruction of these photographs, but it's unnecessary for the enjoyment of them. Once again, she's turned the camera on herself and her life and in doing so helped us all reflect on ours -- lost teeth, jagged nails, white smears and all.

88% Of Moms Agree Nothing Works Faster,30 x 45 inches,Archival Giclee Print Mounted on Aluminum, 2014 

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