As I walked through the exhibition Real Corporeal at Gladstone Gallery I felt dizzy, slightly nauseous, and uneasy. These are some real possible side effects of the visceral artworks on view. The show, curated by Ben Broome, presents a multigenerational and international group of artists grappling with the body and embodiment in the world today. The artworks and overall show are meant to make visitors aware of their own embodiment within the gallery space, while references to social movements and collective gatherings, both IRL and online, address how bodies are in constant dialogue with the politics of their environments.
Many of the works highlight the blurring of moments spent on and away from the computer or phone screen, and the inextricable link between cerebral and physical affectivity. Sara Sadik’s video “Ultimate Vatos: Force & Honneur (Vol.1)” (2022) alternates between scenes that are shot like a video game (think a live-action version of Grand Theft Auto) and those that appear to be shot on an iPhone and uploaded to social media sites. In a voiceover, the protagonist poetically explains his disillusionment with the current state of the world, and his desperate search for a newfound identity and purpose. Without pointing to any specific politics, Sadik gestures toward a global community of isolated young men who find solace on internet forums that so often promote toxic masculinity and violence. This questions the moment at which a body becomes a weapon — and obscures the distinction between digital and corporeal violence.
The weaponization of the body is a motif that runs throughout the exhibition. In nakaya mossi’s sculptural installation “the final court:410 U.S. 113”(2022), the police barricades that are used to control and contain crowds enclose a water cooler. Its title references the original Roe v. Wade court case, and given the recent reversal of this case, it draws attention to how this kind of policing bleeds into other public forums, like the office break room, a sporting event, or a hospital.
Amanda Ba’s intensely psychological figural painting, “The Plower and the Weaver” (2022), presents a different kind of mind-body relationship. Two female nudes occupy the foreground of a desolate pastoral landscape. Beads of sweat drip down one woman’s face and breasts as she stands in mud and raises a plow above her head. Another woman hangs upside down, held by thin strands of silk that wrap around her ankles, thighs, and chest. Ba’s painting makes my skin feel clammy and tense as I take in the vivid imagery of bodies enduring physical pain, and possibly pleasure. Their flexing limbs, visible perspiration, and solemn expressions communicate a kind of physical and affective labor that requires endurance and self-restraint.
The exhibition brings together early-career artists, like Ba, mossi, and Sadik, and established artists, such as Arthur Jaffa, Cyprian Gaillard, and Mark Leckey. Performances programmed throughout the duration of the exhibition are meant to further animate and enliven the space. This is also felt with artworks that demand that we navigate the emotionally and physically stirring responses aroused in our bodies, as in the ominous soundtrack of Sadik’s work, whose drone-like bass tone vibrates through my body so strongly that I shudder. Ba, mossi, and others position the body as something not only to be looked at, but also felt.
Real Corporeal continues at Gladstone Gallery (439 West 127th Street, Harlem, Manhattan) through October 15. The exhibition was curated by Ben Broome.