There is no inherent truth to the way we define gender. As queer theorist Beatriz Preciado writes in Testo Junkie (2013), there is instead ‘an assemblage of normative cultural fictions’. How then to talk of the body outside a system of fictitious sexual representation? How to speak a language of the body that would exceed gender narratives? The nine artists in the show Momentum? Maybe the time has come to live our corporality rather than speak our sexuality, curated by feminist art and entertainment magazine Pétunia – edited by Valerie Chartrain, Lili Reynaud-Dewar and Dorothée Dupuis – at PSM Gallery in Berlin, foreground the physical or material, exploring the body as a site of exchange, relation, desire, oppression, and resistance.
In her photographic prints on silk paper, Untitled (Myung-Il, Margit, Lili, Rene) (2013), Marina Faust portrays friends and colleagues in a way that avoids representation of their psychological states – their expression blank, their bodily presence is instead emphasized. Presence also comes in the form of Caroline Mesquita’s Drums (2013) – a steel drum kit of sorts, fashioned from what looks like office furniture. The harsh, metallic sound of the artist drumming is played through speakers, turning the gallery space into a resonating body itself. This work finds an immediate response in a c-type print by Marie Angeletti, SR (2014), which shows hands drumming on what looks like the neck of a guitar. And this image nods to the sound of percussion instruments in Every Other Year, (2012) a sound piece by Hannah Weinberger, which – sometimes overlapping with Mesquitas’s – forcefully fills the gallery space.
In the silent three-screen video installation Hydra Life (2012) by Tobias Kaspar, a woman rubs excessive amount of the eponymous anti-ageing cream by Christian Dior onto her face and neck. This obsessive act of consumption highlights how societal control is not simply imposed on the body, but how it seeps in through the skin. Yet, there are ways of sidestepping control and compulsive consumption. In Sylvie Blocher’s video A More Perfect Day (2009), Barack Obama’s heroic 2008 speech, A More Perfect Union, has been rearranged as a cheesy love song performed by singer David Bichindaritz in front of Mickey Mouse-themed wallpaper. And In A Script for a Perfect Phone Call (2014), Tania Perez Cordova interrupts the communication between the show’s curators and herself by inserting the sim card from her mobile phone into a large piece of thin white porcelain.
Whatever data is on the card remains invisible. Still, invisibility is made present. In her work No One of Us Is Innocent (2008), Kjersti G. Andvig presents a hand-knitted wool structure: a 1:1 replica of the death row cell of Carlton A. Turner, a black American prisoner executed in Texas in 2008. Here the architecture of surveillance and control is rendered strikingly tangible. In Bag Lady (2006), Pilvi Takala performs a similar move. A double slide projection comprising images and text tells the story of how her visit to a shopping mall in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz with a transparent plastic bag filled with cash brings out the public’s hidden policeman: everyone from shop assistant to waitress chase the artist, urging her to conceal the money.
Takala’s work highlights internalized belief systems and accepted cultural norms. The same systems and norms that define gender as a biological truth. Yet as the title suggests, this show moves past gender concerns. In unpretentious, naive and straightforward ways, even the works in this show that talk about how bodies are controlled speak up for the uncontrollable body: one that knits, sings, dances and goes shopping with a bag full of money on display.
First published in Issue 14