Where The Skin Gets Pinched: Cara Benedetto and Davida Nemeroff
Upon entering the gallery, what I notice are circles: there is a yellow one across the room from me, behind a blue yarn catenary over which is draped a photograph; a second, green circle is adhered to the left-hand support of the catenary – a raw wood column – and from my vantage point it appears to frame a photograph, as does the aforementioned yellow first circle. This new green circle is mounted low on the column, possibly below waist high, and certainly it would require me to bend to view it. Behind me, in the frosted window (although I cannot find this among the images and I did not make my usual notes) I swear there is another circle, a smaller one. Having glanced back to see this, my eyes were suffused with cool frosted light and when I crooked my neck and looked up I found a photo of a mother tiger holding her cub by the scruff of its neck. The slightly warm light of the state mandated “EXIT” sign back lit this photo and this slight touch by the artist stopped me for a while. I considered the clearly symbolic ( to the exhibition title) pinch of the mother’s teeth on her cub and I considered also the gentle, almost caressing touch of light the artist gave her photo – and this thought brought me back to the generous way the artist/s was/were allowing me to make discoveries in her/their work.
Perhaps because of the Minimalist nature of this installation, color seems rich in these rooms, and especially blue feels important. Behind me as I survey the room I know there to be a blue plastic sheeting hung over a printed document. One is able to read through this sheeting words describing intimacy, but once it gets in my head the shade of blue dominates the text. I look around the room to find it again and so notice other blues: the hanging blue yarn, the also dark blue of another circle – this one suspended from the ceiling by nylon thread – and finally, as I turn the corner I find a pennant hanging in front of a ceiling-mounted flood lamp and this pennant is my return, my home blue. It hangs at an angle that describes a possible trajectory through the show, and this angle glances off the apparent rectilinearity of the exhibition and it reminds me, along with the soft light on the tiger photo, that the tightness I see as a theme masks an honesty of emotion and of motion. (Hmm, perhaps these two states have more in common than I supposed? I wonder whether a body in motion feels things more than a body at rest?)
Also in the office space is a photograph of two crossed tennis rackets with the phrase “Live to play, Play to live” in metal letters on their spines (correct word?). This crossing matches precisely the open criss-cross of a high jumper’s legs in the folded photograph and also the “X” shape of the slender nylon thread that suspends a photograph in the yellow circle. This repeated cross, or ex is another reminder that I need to look: When an artist makes a gesture once in an exhibition we may consider it or not, when an artist repeats a gesture physically and conceptually and in several different media then we must allow room for it in our estimation of the show. If nothing else, the artist/s want us to pay attention and they are signalling that they take our attention seriously.
Next to the door, and repeated on the table beneath the pennant chandelier, I find a document that tells a first person story of what I figure to be one of the artists, walking along a downtown LA street at night and possibly listening to a young woman speak of being raped and abused repeatedly by her father and her brothers. I understand that Cara Benedetto, a New Yorker staying in Los Angeles, walked one night unknowing past Suzanne Lacy’s Rape Map installation and read or otherwise experienced this story. The personal nature of this telling shook me out of my complacent art looking and made me consider the show as the personal project of two women who have been friends and have supported each other for years.
I returned to the first space and I noticed that the blue yarn and the folded jumper photo divided the space into two rooms, one whose walls were the flesh of women, or images thereof, along with a score board that details single phrase personal experiences. Another high jumper is pictured inside the yellow circle, as a figure she lays on her back, her legs are spread and her knees raised, her arms also are outstretched. (All of these angles are repeated throughout the show.) The pose is like a million things, but this woman is so powerful that all I can think is of her in that moment without support, not in free fall but jumping, reaching her ascendancy (with her nails painted).
As I leave this modified room I bend then squat to look at the photo in the green circle. A woman’s crotch confronts me (covered I am thankful in blue(again!) trunks) and the woman behind this crotch catches my eye out of the corner of hers as she glances down along her body. Below her, in seats that are pictured bizarrely underneath (and beyond) this high jumper are two faces with eyes also looking back at me. This is more than vagina dentata, this is a vagina with eyes. The famously male gaze of art is turned back out at me from within the woman’s body.
There is more, much more, for those who visit this exhibition. The only reason I write at Notes on Looking is to encourage you to see shows, and given the currency of Davida Nemeroff’s work in our marketplace of ideas in Los Angeles it would be foolish for you to miss this opportunity to see her at her best. (And wjat do you mean by this flowery phrase, Geof? I mean that Nemeroff practices inversion (see Night Gallery) and obfuscation of authorship along with doubling (see this current exh. and other examples of two person solo shows) and throigh this the voice of this artist’s practice retains its autonomy and it gains in authority (a confident approach to erasure combined with the reflected respect that Nemeroff shpws other artists. In LA, where communitarian activty is the norm, Davida Nemeroff is pur gruff communitarian. This intervention into the fourth wall of publishing was pwrformed on a cell phone whole driving through Bev Hills. Take that atream of conscipusness!)
By the way Davida, the blue (and the feel) of the ocean in “Iron Maiden,” 2012 reminds me exactly of those two videos you showed at Torrance – I remember them as being shot off a pier? Perhaps you also showed one in a gallery show. I have never in a photograph seen the ocean resemble more a sculpture and an object. Congratulations. This then takes me back to the first LA photo, the one you took the night you launched Night Gallery. And also the poise of these high jumpers brings to my mind the captive, mute grace of the zoo animals in your previous body of work. The incidence in your practice of re-occurrence is haunting and beautiful, Ms. Nemeroff.
And so I leave you my friends, now with full knowledge that there exist in this show more works of art than I have mentioned. This is meant to be tantalizing. Go.