Over the past decade, New York-based artist Trisha Baga has alchemized the found, the sculpted and the projected into a wiggling, sly body of work. In ‘Mollusca & the Pelvic Floor’, Baga’s third solo show at Greene Naftali, the artist has filled the gallery’s groundfloor space with an array of ceramics, each like a fossilized relic from our leisure-driven lifestyle, as well as a new 3-D film. (It shares its title with the show.)
Among the littered sculpture are several nods to US pop culture, including Elvis’s suit in Elvis Has Left the Building (all works 2018); a bathing Nicole Kidman in The Nose, her feet and knees seeming to rise from the tub-like pedestal; and a blonde Rupaul in RuPaul: Calcified Encasing for Virtual Assistant. Mildly suggestive of the plaster casts of the citizens of Pompeii, the gallery floor looks like a Blockbuster Video struck by Mt. Vesuvius. Other pieces are more personal to the artist, like Monkey Swimming, which depicts her dog paddling across the floor. Then there are the populations of small ceramic masses between the discernable sculptures. Each no bigger than a grapefruit, they look forgettable, forgotten. Projected diagrams of molluscs and anthromoporhic ceramic silhouettes fill up wall space. Like a frozen slideshow, the images amplify the strange stillness of the sculptures. Each ceramic points to an absence: clothing once worn, a bathing scene once screened, now permanently quieted by the kiln. Though, simultaneously, this frozen arrangement engages you in literal conversation; Baga nestles functioning Amazon Alexas throughout the ceramics, with its name changed from the factory-set ‘Alexa’ to ‘Mollusca’. One of the small black disks – about the size of a hocky puck – is lodged into Kidman’s head, and there’s room for another on RuPaul’s torch. You can ask Mollusca the temperature outside or, if you are feeling cheeky (like Baga), you can ask what the cyber servant looks like. ‘Ones and zeros,’ the assistant will reply.
Baga destabilizes Alexa’s role as informer – her poetic questions capitalize on the limits of Alexa’s data processing, sparking algorithmic condrums as it recounts its own name and appearance. And it’s exactly these digital margins Baga investigates. As the virtual assistant recognizes the absence of her own body, so Baga constructs a variety of familiar fossilizations that likewise point toward an absence of bodies. Still, though, the ceramic encasings only magnify our longing for presence, for movement. Baga muses in her film, ‘Mollusca, can you see me?’, to which the machine explains the make of its camera.
The show’s central video piece, Mollusca & the Pelvic Floor, refuses to take itself too seriously – or rather, the exhibition prods at our ideas of ease, humour and convenience. At 37 minutes long, composed of two layered channels – one 2-D, the other 3-D – and a myriad of objects placed in the foreground, the piece is deliriously sculptural. As the foreground lights up in segments, the video displays caves, the artist’s studio, scenes of space from the 1997 movie Contact, and a history of molluscs. Many of these are illuminated by spotlight, with a projected Baga appearing to perfect the arrangement. The artist calls out to Mollusca, and the Amazon personal assistant responds. Placed at the base of the projection are two ceramic feet, mirroring the reoccurring POV shot of Baga in the bath, her feet up as she watches a video of herself. The bathtub is lined on the one-side with bath products and another with soy sauce and tabasco. Baga stews, still and relaxed.
Trisha Baga, 'Mollusca & The Pelvic Floor' was on view at Greene Naftali, New York, from 14 September until 21 October 2018.
Main image: Trisha Baga, RuPaul: Calcified Encasing for Virtual Assistant, 2018, glazed ceramics, 43 × 52 × 42 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Greene Naftali, New York