There are just a few days left to be immersed in the world of bioethics and cow-headed goddesses created by French artist Prune Nourry at the Invisible Dog Art Center, and the experience is something not to be missed. Rarely does an art exhibit engage all five senses, yet Nourry has included sights, sounds, smells, touches and tastes with a subtle approach in Holy River, which closes this Sunday, May 27.
I stopped by the Invisible Dog, a repurposed warehouse space in Brooklyn that has a perfect gritty contrast to the sleek science and warm spirituality of Holy River, to walk through the exhibit with Prune Nourry and her studio director Gaelle Porte. Immediately on entering you start to be transported into the exhibit, slowly absorbing the noises of water and drums and the rich scents of earth and something foreign coming from the reflecting pool filled with hands before you. Nourry has been an artist in residence at the Invisible Dog for the past six months, and this exhibit is the culmination of a three-year project exploring gender selection in India. With the invention of the ultrasound and improved gender identification for humans forming in the womb, the abortion of females has become widespread in India, with Nourry pointing out that the world is now missing these millions of unborn women.
Mud hands in a reflecting pool reach up to IV bags full of water which dripped down during the opening, and the deterioration of the hands into the water (which is only beginning in the above photo) gives a feeling of defeat, yet also returning these hands to their original form. Next to them a candle by Olivier Delcour emits a shifting collection of scents that are meant to give the idea of a river coming down from the Himalayas. Nourry exhibited a similar installation in 2011 in Paris in the Holy Daughters exhibit in a former Parisian milk factory, where instead of mud, milk pooled into a flat surface. Along with the IV bags are other reminders of how science and the progress of medicine are heavily present our lives, with her videos and photographs displayed on x-ray projectors, dentist lightboxes and mammography machines, reinforcing her theme of the increasing manipulation of natural selection through science.
A towering lightbox of a goddess with the head of a cow shines over the reflecting pool of clay hands, and the figure is repeated throughout the exhibit, one striding Giacometti-like and others crouched, their ears pulled back timidly. The hybrid figure is something Nourry imagined, playing off the prevalence of hybrid gods in India, and contrasting a revered animal symbol of fertility with the less honored female herself. Communicating sensitively to peoples’ values in India was immensely important to Nourry in her work, as well as creating a goddess who would be accepted with the others. The lightbox photographs are of an 18-foot tall version of the goddess from when Nourry infiltrated the Durga festival in Kolkata in 2011, where giant versions of gods and goddesses are sculpted from mud from the Ganges river, then pushed back into the water from the river banks. A set of stairs behind the lightbox allow visitors to look through the paraded goddesses eyes (the eyes of a sculpture are said to give it a soul), and several photographs and a video chronicle the fascinating realization of the goddess. In another project in 2010, she left resin versions of the hybrid sculpture in the streets, where she documented reactions to this strange, yet familiar, creature.
While in New Delhi, she went to the Holi festival where colored pigments are thrown by a crowd made up entirely of men, despite the fact that it is a fertility celebration. She decided to stage her won ceremony where she invited young girls to throw milk powder on her “Holy Daughter” festival, celebrating fertility instead in the courtyard of a Gaushala (cow orphanage), and documented this Holy Holi project through a video she then projected on a pool of milk.
A drinking station under the sign “Eau de Vie” (water of life) in Holy River has six different choices of tap water flavored with sweet tastes by Michael Hamilton, each representing a river, which visitors can sample out of test tubes. Nourry experimented with a similar idea in her “Spermbar” project in 2011, which was the result of her shock and fascination with the American sperm-bank industry. She had symbolic sperm donors fill out their traits, and then associated these traits with ingredients for genetic cocktails, which she served out of a food truck on Fifth Avenue.
Despite the multimedia work in Holy River, Nourry roots her work in sculpture. She strives to transcend flatness in her two dimensional work, often projecting videos on ashes, liquid or a studio floor and refilming them in a new textured form. She also celebrates the process of sculpture, and has ceramic shells of her clay pieces being readied for bronze. This reverence for creation is further explored in her performances, and at the Invisible Dog we find the caked mud remains of a dance performance, where microphones were placed in the mud and clay. Everywhere in Holy River are splayed or reaching hands grasping for touch, or creation, and there is something tactile in every piece.
Prune Nourry plans to next head to China to continue her projects on bioethics and gender selection, with research trips to first to immerse herself in the culture and sensitivities of the country before starting her art. By entering Holy River, it’s possible to be similarly submerged in a place that Nourry has carefully responded to, absorbing and them transmitting both the issues and the beauty of India through an impressively multifaceted display of work.
Holy River by Prune Nourry shows through May 27 at the Invisible Dog Art Center (51 Bergen Street, Brooklyn).