Justin Fitzpatrick “F-R-O-N-T-I-S-P-I-E-C-E” at Seventeen, London
by Bianca Stoppani
My Tinder match R. and I arrive at the gallery discussing quiche with no salt since I had forgotten to add it. He mumbles something about a Greek version of it but doesn’t go further as we fall silent in front of an oversized aluminum egg, sitting in a small rounded glass, fixed on a wooden stool. Inserted in the egg are two audio cables looped onto blocks and then connected to a couple of mic stands at the other side of the room. The microphones point to a hanging resin sign with the word “Madrigal,” whose whiteness partially emerges from a smaller, circular area on the wall behind, painted in soft hues of pink. Upon closer look, the sign is composed of multiple (s)pieces and tied together with brown leather strings—the actual word, a double line framing it above and below, and winged animals. Actually, they are one and the other at the same time, for the birds’ necks extend the longest legs of the letters and top the latter with their beaks fiercely open. The ensemble is called The Song of Men (all works, 2017) with reference to the actual madrigal—a secular, polyphonic song with no accompaniment. Yet, the egg does not emit any sound, nor does the sign—it is not clear if the connection has already happened, if it has failed, or if we’re just unable to hear it.
As a sympoietic circuitry, the doubleness of this madrigal problematizes matters of ontology and agency between the voice and the instrument, the human and the nonhuman, as well as the organic and inorganic. Also, its mimetic-metamorphic characteristic complicates the reproduction of those sealed and secured taxonomies, in a kind of stab from within. This is an immanent modality that doesn’t shy away from the problems of binary logics and instead materialises its assumptions. I am inclined to consider the recurring line in Fitzpatrick’s work as a wave that generates rather than outlines, that unapologetically matters appearance and clouds the ontological boundaries of figures. Therefore, if in representationalism the boundaries are enacted to diverge and disjunct, as Karen Barad would have it, what if they can be enacted to actually connect via a relation of complementarity?
R. and I turn on the left to the mirrored ampersand, both in the paintings Message delivery failure and Failure to launch. Its origin is in the Latin “et,” which was absorbed into the Anglo-Saxon alphabet and positioned at its end. Since the two letters were often written entangled, when the alphabet was spoken out loud, a “per se” would have been added to indicate the unity of the two. The ‘and per se and’ sounds to me like an axiom, a code for connection and entanglement, which again defies the question: Is what we see an ampersand, or a hairy construction worker (in the first) and a swan (in the second), whom bodies are stretched in the form of an ampersand? The idea of failure suggested by the titles resonates then with those entities that do not comply with individuation. Like non-responding machines, they might be resisting the task they have been asked to complete. Their enmeshment is also the logical impasse of the formula that maddens Bartleby’s boss in his titular tale.
Self-digestion Sigil is a series of three black sculptures in resin and wax displayed on a rising diagonal in the second room. Again, two birds seem to be in the act of feeding (into) each other through a generative loop of capture and dispossession. The title articulates the sigil’s metabolism, an affective economy of exhaustion, whose cipher is the longing for material assimilation of and into the other. Indeed, the process of mattering—wherein those conative bodies are involved—also includes two construction workers with their arms crossed. R. looks at the protective helmets that they’re wearing and we talk about safe spaces and bodily leaks; I guess the gallery was my safe space for our encounter. Matters of trust, liquids, couples, and couplings recur in Aquarius Cat (Toilette), where a dissected cat drinks from an Evian bottle pouring water into its mouth from above. We can actually follow the water’s flow (and overflow) into the stomach—the only visible organ— its leakage gathering in a small pool underneath the cat.
On the right, follow the paintings Swan Nest, Architects (Demi- Urges), and Mysterious Bath. The two swans cover all the surface with their serpentine necks and misty plumage; while one has a languid gaze, the other bites the first’s wing. (R. especially liked the three dots resembling a traffic light, which chromatically balance the composition). Similar to the previous construction workers, the architects belong to a complex ecology, as if a skin complexion has been zoomed in (at the margins) and out (at the center). Dimensions and scales are assembled and compressed into a radical horizontality, whereby the two bodies are partially superimposed on one another—each carrying a house—and beside them what seem like hairs have penetrated two strata of yellow and pink matter (the epithelium?)
Mysterious Bath is the only painting where the elements occupy a three-dimensional space. There, an architectural-literal composition floats on an angular sea; it is composed by a clock tower connected to a giant ‘J,’ constituted by an “op” emerging from-sinking in, and by an “and” paired with the lower part of a male body. At the bottom, the legs melt in the letters’ wavy extremity and feed the sea. We say goodbye.
Going home, I feel empowered by the hermeneutical undecidability of the works on view because, ultimately, they defy any definitive reading. F-R-O-N-T-I-S-P-I-E-C-E is a hyper-porous exhibition, where metaphors are substituted by metamorphosis. Generic in its subject-matter, who and what participates there vibrates with molecular forces in a permanent, wayward fluidity.