In her first solo show with the Fridman Gallery, Alula in Blue, Tamar Ettun has erected an impressively large blue-and-white object that resembles a giant sail or, perhaps, a wing. “Alula” refers to a small part of a bird’s wing that is the rough equivalent of a human thumb, which allows for more fluid movement in flight. A motor pumps air into the wing sculpture, wedged between two columns taking up the majority of the gallery space. A handwritten note on the wall at the far end of the gallery reads: “Please come in and take off your shoes.” Opening the wing object, which is sealed at one end with velcro, releases a burst of cool air. This is the most tactile part of the show: wind rushes at you through the giant inflated balloon, smelling like paint and nylon.
Another, somewhat hidden element of the exhibition consists of several cards with short bits of flash fiction and an associated color — blue, red, orange, yellow — reflecting the experience of several different characters. In one, a girl dies after a lung transplant because she can’t “stand the body odor of the kid whose lungs they put inside her.” In another, a five-year-old Jewish boy wears his light-up sneakers to synagogue on a Friday night and tries to step lightly so they will not flash. The stories are very different from the rest of the pieces in the exhibit, and one might even pass over them, perusing the whole gallery without noticing the pile of colorful cards.
The exhibition also includes a film, Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth Red Feathers Green Feet and a Rose Belly, of which only the first part, “Blue,” has been completed and is screening on a loop. The film shows a dance choreographed by Ettun and performed by a group of dancers from the Moving Company (which Ettun formed in 2013) wrapped in shiny blue polyester fabric. In one scene the dancers sit at a table with pale pink flowers in their mouths and reach toward a pile of red tomatoes, rubbing their hands, wrists, and arms all over them. Then they then stand together in a line, holding the tomatoes tightly between their ankles, calves, and in the crooks of their knees until the fruits begin to burst and drip down their legs. The video has the feeling of stumbling upon an alien world inhabited by shiny blue faceless creatures, one with a breast hanging out of her polyester suit, dancing jerkily like birds, performing strange rituals.
In another scene, a dancer encased in an inflated see-through ball, reminiscent of a snow globe with bright yellow pieces of translucent paper fluttering around inside, wakes and rolls along a snow-covered hill. Later, another dancer beats a giant yellow inflated triangle with a broom and, once it’s flattened, throws it off a roof. The film’s music starts out eerie, with just a few repeated piano notes, which are joined later by electronic bleeps and a beat. At one point a dancer whose face is not covered stands on what looks like a pillow as water leaks out of its corners down the legs of a chair. Odd behaviors like this give the film a kind of narrative, but in a visual language that the viewer cannot understand on an intellectual or verbal level. The dancers express movement and embodiment in unusual ways, appealing to the viewer’s vicarious senses, making it almost tactile. We do not move as the dancers do, but we are drawn in by their physicality.
The other components of the show are the sculptures, which are fascinating, also giving the impression of having some kind of pre-intellectual purpose or use. Plaster-cast hands and other body parts (half a face, a breast with a nail sticking out of the nipple, something indeterminate, perhaps a hip or a calf) interact with household objects and fruits, all painted in vivid colors. Two teal gloves on a pedestal hold a glass banana like some kind of offering, and a half-violin, half-cookie tin hangs dilapidated, strings barely attached, on the wall. Many other pieces are hands halted mid movement: two blue twisted hands rise out of a pedestal, one gripped tightly around a paintbrush; another seems to be pushing a skewer, balanced impossibly on its index finger. The effect of the bizarre combinations of objects and body parts might be eerie if they weren’t so brightly painted and so childlike in their assemblage. The sculptures look as though they might fall apart: they’re delightfully sloppy, like the dancer in the video with her breast exposed.
Taken as a whole, the exhibition offers an unusual and surprising amount of pleasure: to see these objects and the dancers, as though they were all at play, all linked together in their absurdity, is a delightful thing. The Alula pieces, the physicality of watching the dancers, the invitation to step into the enormous inflated wing, and the sensation of the rushing air — it all seeks to inspire movement, the possibility of movement, or the possibility of interacting with the world purely through the sensations of the body. This is most effectively relayed through the video work and sculpture, making the story cards unnecessary, too concrete in their narrative to fit well with the rest of the work that celebrates the childlike, the non-verbal, the sensation and pleasure of movement.
Alula in Blue continues at Fridman Gallery (287 Spring Street, Soho, Manhattan) until October 28.