Throughout history, the witch has
been the outlier, a foreigner in a
new land, an immigrant, a loner,
and a queer. By those descriptions,
this makes me a witch.
I think the witch has to reimagine normative systems of power. This is a healthy
place to be. It makes for new ideas and
- Alex Da Corte interview
Hammons has also comments on the
work of Richard Serra, whose sculpture is
clean in design though dirty to the touch.
In one performance, Hammons threw
twenty-five pairs of shoes over the top of
Serra’s TWU in lower Manhattan, superimposing uptown on downtown. In “Pissed
Off” Hammons urinated on the same Serra
piece, and, as documented by Dawoud
Bey, was nearly arrested by a passing policeman. Both unauthorized additions to
TWU made it dirtier, lending a new element
to its relationship with New York City. Perhaps only Hammons could urinate on another artist’s work and alter its meaning in
a positive manner.
“ON THE IDEOLOGY OF DIRT” (1990) by Tom Finkelpear
aisy Hildyard in The Second Body: “Your body is infecting the world—you leak.” Shahryar Nashat once—not long ago—followed up with the question: “Where are the fluids?” The query remains unresolved; the leak has surged to a deluge. And we are drowning in it. The fluids, it seems, have been collected from carcasses drained of life, strung up on the disassembly line, packaged, contained, sealed, and ready for consumption. These are our surrogate selves suffocated in fat on a landscape of desolation and decay. This is an organic death: ethically sourced, carbon-neutral. Ed Smith: “I’m in no moo’d / said the cow.” (For Bruce Hainley.) There is a moment just before a body becomes flesh, before it becomes meat and bone, and then becomes simply matter. This is the threshold between life and death, when the body has been stripped of its faculties. An inert substance lacks the burden of memories. In a recent poem, Joyce Carol Oates writes: “The stroke / that wipes out / memory / is another word / for mercy.” We want to be nothing inside, we want to be merciful. Abstraction is just another word for dismemberment.
Shahryar Nashat has specialised in conjuring the particular kind of presence that is absence pushed past its limit. The truant body that we find in his work is potent enough to function as an eloquent de-scriptor of what is not there. A foam mattress and sheer plastic bags of urine make a symphony of yellow and a consideration of skin, containment, intimacy, rest, and waste. Coloured spines with uneven surfaces are suspended from the ceiling, carriers of nothing and so shiny they should be liquid, just as the bruised skin of a slab of marble is so finely draped it should respond to your touch. Large shell-like shapes of fibreglass manifest a kind of lapsed materiality, or negative space, miscarried from the virtual. Each in their way, all of Nashat’s sculptures sit breathlessly on the border between soft and hard, thing and being, deliberation and detritus, like a sound turned up high enough that it achieves a different texture. These are things that might be, and already were. You hear the echo of a blast that happened elsewhere—not so faint at all.
Los Angeles had been under lockdown for more than a year when the show opened, and Nashat had conceived of the works as surrogates for bodies—a corporeal presence in a largely depopulated exhibition space, like witch bottles marking the corners of rooms. The bags felt more anxious then, less comfortable in their vinyl skin. They seemed to speak more directly to a period of prolonged isolation—the way in which we might all have felt a bit like Hughes barricaded in the screening room during the darkest days of quarantine. But the newer version has a presence that is less abject than it is intimate. Nashat’s bags are tender objects—watery pillows slumping into the foam, a spectrum of different yellows, like bodies both satisfied and longing for something unknown.
To pee in a bottle and leave it on a public street is a deeply antisocial act. As the bottle of pee becomes a familiar fixture in the landscape of urban detritus, it can begin to feel like a symptom of a larger turn inward and, by extension, of a troubling indifference to the city as a communal space—not on the part of the driver who leaves it behind, but of the larger mechanism that does not allow for an alternative. Plumbing and urban life are inextricably linked. What are we to make of a civilization willing to eschew its own social codes on public hygiene for the sake of customer satisfaction? In his 1898 essay “Plumbers,” Adolf Loos writes that “without the plumber the nineteenth century just would not exist.” How do we measure the progress of twenty-first-century technology on a planet where, according to UNICEF, more people have access to mobile phones than to adequate sanitation?