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Just how connected are bodies to global patterns — specifically women’s bodies? Sara Shaoul’s exhibit Strange Labor at Booklyn is an intimate show that looks to expand our understanding of the self in the world by examining the interconnectedness of female body patterns and sociopolitical cycles. The show looks at women’s menstrual cycles and the lunar calendar and focuses on the ways they match up with global financial phases.
The center of the show is Shaoul’s installation “BBT Chart” (2015), a huge map of her own basal body temperature/ovulation cycle on which she has circled dates indicating the rise and fall of progesterone and drawn lines between them. Across from “BBT” is the photograph “Three Peaks and a Domed House” (2015), a graph of financial highs and lows that very closely resembles those in the “BBT” ovulation graph. The financial cycle also has 28 points, like Shaoul’s fertility chart. The fact that these two very different graphs mirror one another shows, as Shaoul has said, “ways in which the value of the female body is linked to its capacity or incapacity to create new consumers,” and that “the basic patterns of capitalism are forced upon, embedded in, and expressed by bodies.” Viewed this way, we are tied to goods as much as they are to us.
Placed atop “BBT” are small pig figurines, meant to represent piggy banks. They are objects from childhood demonstrating, as the artist told me, the ways “we are socialized to take part in the institutions and rituals of capitalism” from youth. This underscores the enduring relationship we have with money, but Shaoul takes it further by suggesting that this relationship is actually twofold: the mother’s cycle connected to commerce, and our relationship with it thereby beginning at conception and remaining constant throughout our lives.
Another aspect of Shaoul’s work is expressing the bizarreness of the human body as a way to underscore the uncanny ideas in her pieces. “Arm” (2015), a clay sculpture, places fragments of body parts alongside in each other in a way that is both recognizable and eerie. The fingers are molded in a cartoonish way, and the placement of the forearm area evokes the idea of crawling. The composition is human yet alien, just like the nearby ultrasound photo of ovaries, “Ovary II” (2015). Corporeal yet indecipherable, these photos combine the grotesqueness of “Arm” and the intimacy of Shaoul’s ovulation chart.
Though small, the exhibit is ambitious. Shaoul is seeking to reveal a peculiar yet profound connection between the female body and the world it inhabits. She states, “The shape of profit and the pattern of loss are ingrained in our consciousness as a measure of both institutional and personal successes or failures.” At the heart of Shaoul’s work is a sensitive attempt to prove that women’s bodies are biological vehicles of global financial change, showcasing the importance of the reproductive cycle while commenting on the inextricable connection between humanity and consumerism. “It seemed both revelatory and sinister that financial charting and analyses should mirror so closely the emotional language and details of reproduction,” she told me. I’m not sure about sinister, but her work is certainly revealing.
Strange Labor continues at Booklyn (37 Greenpoint Ave, Greenpoint, Brooklyn) until October 31.There will be an artist talk at the gallery on October 23 from 7–9pm.