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The three exhibitions currently on display at Long Island City’s SculptureCenter reveal the institution’s commitment to recognizing broad swaths of contemporary art. Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook and Now Showing: Belleza y Felicidad are the first American mini-retrospectives of artists from Thailand and Argentina, respectively. In Practice: Under Foundations is a large group show highlighting new work from nearly a dozen emerging artists.
More than 20 pieces by Thai artist Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook represent over a decade of work in sculpture, video, and photography. Her work draws parallels between the subjugation of women and animals, investigating the communication of pain. In the video installations “Conversation” (2005) and “The Class” (2005), the artist talks to a room of corpses. Playing a professor, Rasdjarmrearnsook instructs the dead bodies on the subject of death, demonstrating and parodying the limits of language.
Her retrospective also includes a newly commissioned installation titled Kaidown, Karong, Lam, Long, Masee, Mee, Mommam, Ngab, Nuanoi, Nudee, Peuy, Plakem, Rambo, Rublor, Sibsee, Sornrak, Sua, Tao, Tualek, Tun, Yown (2015). Those names correspond to 21 jars, each containing a dog’s head shot and fur clipping. All of the dogs are strays found and nurtured by the artist, some in her home, some at Chiang Mai University, where she teaches. Each jar is a monument to its dog’s experience of abandonment. A heartbreaking black-and-white projection of a paralyzed canine struggling to walk underscores the painful lives of these strays. Rasdjarmrearnsook draws attention to the emotional lives of her animals by illustrating the suffering they’re incapable of verbalizing.
Behind this projection, a hallway leads to a dark room where a video plays “Great Time Message: Storytellers of the Town (The Insane)” (2006). It features the blurred image of a woman being interviewed in Thai about her experiences at a psychiatric hospital. By surrounding the viewer with the same projection on three walls, Rasdjarmrearnsook inundates us with an often disregarded experience. By shooting the interview out of focus, she draws attention to the subject’s social invisibility. It’s one more in a series of powerful works on display that explore the lives of those muted and ignored by society.
The current iteration of SculptureCenter’s Now Showing series, Belleza y Felicidad, adjacent to the museum’s front desk, showcases art and poetry booklets published by an Argentine literary collective and independent press of the same name. Belleza y Felicidad has been printing the booklets since 1999, a period that’s coincided with Argentina’s persistent debt crises. The collective built a creative community in the midst of the nation’s economic downturn by assembling their poetry booklets like zines, which minimized their overhead.
Fernanda Laguna and Cecilia Pavón formed the group to facilitate collaboration between Buenos Aires artists from a broad array of disciplines. Belleza y Felicidad operated a hybrid art-supply store and gallery from 1999 to 2007, which also functioned as a space for events and other types of creative cooperation. Since 2007, the imprint has continued without a physical location and with lean production methods. The booklets’ black-and-white covers recall the minimalism of computer clip art by depicting basic images on blank backgrounds. In a touch of whimsical pluck, the booklets in plastic pouches are held to the wall with golden pins shaped like animals, fairies, and bicycles.
The group show In Practice: Under Foundations is appropriately installed on SculptureCenter’s lower level. The unifying theme of the eleven works is, as the title suggests, different ways of seeing beneath the surface. The subterranean setting contextualizes the work as the visitor traverses the foreboding basement rooms.
Cyanotypes featuring scattered items of trash adorn the largest wall in the room at the foot of the stairs. These were made by artist Nanna Debois Buhl for her series Botanizing on the Asphalt I (2015). Buhl collected refuse from the museum’s vicinity, marking the points where trash was encountered on an accompanying map of the neighborhood. She was inspired by 19th-century botanist and photographer Anne Atkins, who used cyanotypes — initially a method of copying notes — to record flora. Buhl aimed to subvert the traditionally masculine role of the urban explorer by taking a similar approach to cyanotypes in her own investigation of urban space.
The centerpiece of the show is Janelle Iglesias’s “The Only Way Out Is Through (What Doesn’t Bend Breaks)” (2015), which takes the spectator through a path of arches; some are sculptures of the human form and others consumer goods recontextualized as art objects, all structured to emphasize their arches. The form of the arch alludes to Walter Benjamin’s unfinished Arcades Project, which used the shopping arcades of 19th-century Paris as a lens for exploring the commodification of society. Iglesias’s piece emphasizes the continuing link between arches and consumerism by constructing them from pop-cultural objects — including a rainbow-shaped piñata and a slinky — that have emerged since Benjamin’s death in 1940. By juxtaposing these objects with representations of the human form, Iglesias’s installation depicts the arch as an aspect of nature that’s become universal by becoming commodified.
Araya Rasdjarmrearnsook and Now Showing: Belleza y Felicidad continue at SculptureCenter (44-19 Purves Street, Long Island City, Queens) through March 30. In Practice: Under Foundations continues through April 13.