Jumana Manna “Adrenarchy” and Rodrigo Hernández “The Gourd & the Fish” at SALTS, Birsfelden
Jumana Manna “Adrenarchy”
Curated by Samuel Leuenberger
The title of Jumana Manna’s first solo exhibition in Switzerland, “Adrenarchy” is a take on Adrenarche, an early sexual maturation stage in some higher primates, which similarly takes place in humans before the age of 12. During this phase, the body, its smell and oiliness dramatically change, following an increase in cortisol levels, resulting in what is commonly known as puberty. A fabricated combination of -adrenalin and -anarchy Manna’s title aims at transposing this uncomfortable moment of transformation and awe
into an installation which combines anthropomorphic elements, whose shape and formal qualities incarnate ambiguity.
Manna is a sculptor and filmmaker, whose main interests address how various forms of power are articulated through relationships, often focusing on the body in relation to narratives of nationalism, and histories of place. Manna’s work uses often a poetic and fragmented visual language in order to address biographical experiences. Individuals play the central roles in narratives where the body becomes a political tool addressing more global concerns, as exemplified in her recent feature film Wild Relatives (2018), which follows a batch of seeds that were sent from Aleppo, Syria, to the Global Seed Vault, in the Arctic island of Svalbard, and recently back to Lebanon to be planted. Following the path of this transaction, a series of encounters unfold a matrix of lives between these two distant spots of the earth. The film captures both the violence and melancholy of both climate and war induced disasters on earth, alongside practices of care that manifest resilience it.
For this exhibition, the artist has created a new body of work comprising sculptures laying over a sauna-inspired construction. Evoking strength and eroticism, these structures seem like archeological fossils sweating out some tension. Armpit (2018) and Armpit Shell (2018) continue the Muscle-Vase series, which she began in 2014; a body of androgynous and dismembered hollow vessels that are juxtaposed with found furniture or simple structures. On the right side of the wall, Torso II (2017), a white skin-shell sculpture resembling the shape of a torso is leaning against the wall. Accompanying the sculptures, one finds piles of towels that introduce softness to the hard bodies, as well a a tablet and smart phone playing short-looped animations, Balls and Flutter (both 2014). These comical and grotesque videos add an additional layer to the over-sized bodies and their surfaces, into the digital, haptic realm. They linger in the space like left-behind objects, adding to the general uncanniness. Jumana Manna’s sculptural work simultaneously appears to be strong in their materiality, while also bearing a fragile and deconstructed presence. This ambivalence is also palpable in the contrast between the delicate and candid way she captures the sheer beauty of every day human moments and landscapes in her films, and the tension brought by her use of humour and criticism in other installations. Manna’s artworks are conceived as surrogate vessels, through which a psychological journey takes place.
Additionally, in the adjacent room, SALTS presents Manna’s Blessed, Blessed Oblivion, her first film from 2010, inspired by Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising (1963), which weaves together a portrait of male thug culture in East Jerusalem, manifested in barbershops, auto-shops and body building.
Rodrigo Hernández “The Gourd & the Fish”
Curated by Samuel Leuenberger & Elise Lammer
The title of Rodrigo Hernandez’ first solo exhibition in Switzerland is inspired by Catching a Catfish with a Gourd, a Zen ink painting from the 15th century located in the Taizo-in Temple in Kyoto. In the center of the composition, a man standing on a bank holds a gourd in both hands, attempting to capture or pin down a catfish swimming in the stream below. An impossible task, such nonsensical act is underscored by the awkwardness with which the figure struggles even to hold his gourd. The image also serves the purpose of a Zen koan, an exemplary story or dialogue seemingly illogical used as a tool for meditation, often grappling with existential questions.
Putting the riddle into practice, the space was divided symmetrically into two parallel rooms, each fitted with a new entrance placed at equal distance from the middle wall. With no further indication, the visitor can access the exhibition from either side. Each space proposes a similar yet distinct situation: built like a multi-layered tableau, a translucent humanoid figure hung near the entrance faces a colourful papier-maché relief painting placed on the back wall. All walls are striped with horizontal continuous lines that create an optically vibrant environment meant to link all works together, very much in the way some East Asian paintings such as a “Boneless Manner” or Mokkotsubȳo manage to evoke an ambiguous space by depicting an atmosphere without any clear outlines. When combined, red and blue stripes create a visual effect known as chromostereopsis, a visual illusion crafting the impression of depth, but which can also be highly unsettling, triggering a sense of vibration for the viewer, as it was common in Op-Art. By echoing Dave Hickey’s introduction to Optic Nerve: Perceptual Art of the 1960s (2007) one can introduce Hernandez’ interest in creating installations that can be both understood autonomously, or by engaging with the artist’s process of cumulative associations.
“…Op art does its own work for whoever will look. It dispenses with the repertoire of knowledge and experience that is presumed to be required to appreciate abstract art.
It replaces the elite, intellectual pleasure of “getting it” with the egalitarian fun-house pleasure of disorientation; of trying to understand something that you cannot… As we stand before op-paintings that resist our understanding, we introduce ourselves to our unconscious selves. We become aware of the vast intellectual and perceptual resources that await our command just beyond the threshold of our knowing. These, of course, can only be inferred on the rare occasions when they fail to serve our purposes. Optical art provides those occasions.”
Yet, another layer comes to the mix: the abstract painted reliefs are partly inspired by some of Emilio Pucci’s flamboyant designs. The Italian fashion designer’s action-packed biography seems to tangentially add up to the constellation of references. Upon close inspection, the contour of a fish in rapid movement might emerge out of the abstract shapes or one could infer a microscopic non-realistic rendering of water, establishing a dialogue with the fish-hunting figure in the middle of the space. Though still debated, it has been agreed among many specialists and dilettantes alike, that Catching a Catfish with a Gourd is about the impossibility of grasping the mind (the catfish) with the mind (the gourd), and by extension about the absence of an independent and substantial self. Acting both as the means and end of Rodrigo Hernandez’ process, this paradigm is exemplary of the artist’s work. Working as a total environment, “The Gourd & the Fish” simultaneously invites the viewer to contemplate an open-ended question, but also avoids hinting at any clear answer. Rather, it collages extraneous elements, calling for a new interpretative set-up, defined by both external and internal, natured and nurtured aptitudes.
at SALTZ, Birsfelden
until 25 August 2018