MIAMI — Developed by Hippocrates and based on medical traditions found in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the four humors theory came from the idea that the body contains blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile, and that each of these fluids must be in equitable harmony — too much or too little of one results in specific temperaments. There are still schools of thought today that bear resemblance to the four humors. Consider Ayurveda, the theory that our bodies contain the traits of three Doshas (core mind-body “types”) and that our equilibrium can be thrown into disarray if we have an excess of one or another. Is there a way to localize the moment we stray too far into one temperament? It is this idea of balance that makes the four humors seem logical. That we are a delicate arrangement of mostly invisible muscular functions makes us human, and renders our internal bodies an unseen mystery.
For Martha Friedman’s Pore, her first major exhibition in Miami, the Detroit-born, Brooklyn-based artist explores the four humors to communicate the vulnerability of the body. “Cut Piece,” a cross-sectioned cube of metal tubing leaking long, rubber cylinders, alludes to human physicality and the dissection thereof. It is a fair predecessor to the rest of the exhibition. After Friedman poured up to 1,000 pounds of rubber onto Locust Projects’s floor, the material was hung from the rafters — there are four sheets in total, representing each humor, and they are massive, enveloping the space in waterfalls of touchable fluid.
Friedman likes to expand her medium until it becomes large enough to represent something that might only exist in the imagination — but here the work seems less about abstraction and more about scale and inversion: now, our insides are outside ourselves; the corporal fluids are the environment. The rubber resembles human skin and makes visible the fragile, obscured ecosystem hiding beneath our skin. “It is a lot about the anxiety or permeability of the body, the possibility of the body collapsing,” Friedman told me.
As part of Pore’s programming, dancer and choreographer Silas Riener dresses himself in these outfits and interacts with each work. In this way, the formerly absent body of the installation — the thing that might contain the fluids — becomes encased within these substances, inside out. Explains Friedman, “It was really important to me that the body is inverted, becoming the environment, and then that covers a body. There are some gender binaries I’m interested in, too — the formless fluid being associated with femininity and the idea that it will clothe or hold a male body is interesting to me.”
In addition to Pore, Locust Projects is featuring Beatriz Monteavaro’s Nochebuena, another exploration of the human form, albeit on a level far more personal and metaphorical. “Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter,” Yoda told Luke Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back — according to Monteavaro, the statement is a guiding proclamation for her examination of bodies, memory, and light. A roasted pig usually accompanies the Latin American Christmas Eve holiday to which the show’s title refers, and photographs from a childhood celebration adorn a wooden pallet propped up against a wall. No part of the pig is spared, and in these images we see all its dissected parts, sliced tendons and cooked fat ready for consumption. This body is not presented abstractly or spiritually — it is macroscopic and salient.
But it is not the pig that is so significant as the memory of it: its body is evocative of death and rebirth, which might be what Nochebuena is really about. Inspired by the sale of her family home, Monteavaro revisited and collected family photo albums and ephemera to construct the installation, which is dotted with Christmas and Halloween decorations, action figures, religious iconography recast in plastic, and, above it all, a rotating, glowing, cardboard night sky. We are entering a retelling of the artist’s childhood memory.
The most moving component, in fact, might be the installation’s most innocuous: a cluster of water jugs illuminated by Christmas lights. This, Monteavaro explains, is a direct allusion to her mother’s harboring of milk bottles after the family emigrated from Cuba to Miami when the artist was a toddler. Afraid the family would later need both the milk and their containers but not have the access to secure them, it was a gratuitous gesture, borne of the neurosis that comes with not being able to sustain the body. Hoarding was an attempt to preclude and evade potential disaster.
In thinking of our own carnality, we often worry for it; it is the anxiety of which Friedman speaks. In Friedman’s Pore, we are reminded of our physicality or mortality — that we are comprised of uncontrollable and mysterious fluids — whereas Monteavaro’s Nochebuena shows that, fortunately, our personal stories can always be retold and reshaped.