before the body there is the flesh
Berenice Olmedo & Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste
Curated by Jessica Kwok
March 5 – April 11, 2021
Opening Reception March 5, 2-9pm
“... [B]efore the ‘body’ there is the ‘flesh,’ that zero degree of social conceptualization that does not escape concealment under the brush of discourse, or the reflexes of iconography.” — Hortense Spillers
before the body there is the flesh, brings together Berenice Olmedo and Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste to reflect upon what it means to disrupt normative understandings of the human condition forged by dominant ideologies. The body is one of the most politicized commodities under neoliberal capitalism. To consider the flesh before the body is to break open the collision of subjectivities that are systematically reproduced and enforced as standards, which determine abject identities. Julia Kristeva describes the abject as that which is “radically excluded,” drawing her “towards a place where meaning collapses.” Olmedo and Toussaint-Baptiste draw us towards this place using movement and sound to fracture and unsettle signifiers of these identities on the margins. Through new works made for this exhibition, the artists create moments of interruption as acts of both enfolding and refusal, asking us to face the uncomfortable and fragile existences of those located at the intersections of difference.
Olmedo presents sculptures consisting of orthopedic apparatuses arranged on the gallery floor. Two of these anthropomorphic assemblages—Valentina (2021) and Amalia (2021)—are mechatronic and perform an awkward choreography, which sees them hopeless in their attempts to rise to an upright position. Even the term “upright” implies that verticality is the natural and correct anatomical axis. The structural practice of ableism results in the erasure or rectification of disability in order to allow its societal inclusion. Prostheses are not only technical instruments designed to coerce the body to fit within a container of corporal norms, but are also linguistic devices that engender subjectivities obstructing the re-writing of abjection. Olmedo's sculptural objects begin to erode the distinctions of categorical identity through the abstraction of flesh to machine and of machine as not only extensions of precarious bodies but also extensions of the terms against which all other bodies are measured.
Toussaint-Baptiste also considers abstraction as a way to collapse the conditions that shape the production of meaning. On the gallery walls hang inverted cast iron pots that operate as speakers, each one reverberating at their own frequency. Toussaint-Baptiste has carefully adjusted the pitch resonating from each pot, locating them at relational intervals to produce the “mystic chord”—a synthetic set of harmonic tones where, “its preternatural stillness was a gnostic intimation of a hidden otherness,” is intended to move us to a liminal space and invoke a sense of apprehension. These objects are embedded with histories, making marks on their “flesh” in ways that articulate cracks within homogeneity. This work draws on the history of cast iron pots being placed at doors by enslaved people to absorb sound and evade detection during clandestine gatherings. Meaning has been repeatedly abstracted and re-layered, its sonic texture prickly, cutting through air and obfuscating our formal systems of being.
Without abstraction and “a kinetic set of positions,” the continuity of subjective narratives cannot be ruptured. Olmedo and Toussaint-Baptiste share a dialogue that enfolds the margins, dissolves the boundaries, and imagines nonrepresentational identities as a process of becoming, of breaking and re-making. The body and the flesh can mean everything and nothing at the same time.
Berenice Olmedo (b. 1987, Oaxaca) lives and works in Mexico City, MX. Solo exhibitions include: “CsO, Haecceidad,” Jan Kaps, Cologne (2020); Art Basel, Switzerland (2019); “Toraco-Lumbo [SKOLIÓPHYSIS],” Lodos, Mexico City (2019); “Anthroprosthetic,” Jan Kaps, Cologne (2018). Recent group exhibitions include: “Otrxs Mundxs,” Museo Tamayo, Mexico City (2020); “INCORPOREA,” Basement Roma, Rome (2020); “and suddenly it all blossoms,” RIBOCA2, Riga (2020); “Dream Baby Dream,” Haus Mödrath, Kerpen (2020); “How to survive,” Sprengel Museum, Hannover (2020); “Autorreconstrucción: detritus” curated by Abraham Cruzvillegas, MUCA UNAM, Mexico City (2018); “CyberArts,” OK Center, Linz (2017). She received an honorary mention in the Hybrid Art category from Ars Electronica in Linz, Austria (2017). She has been a grantee of Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes (FONCA) Jóvenes Creadores in 2017 and 2019. She holds a BFA from Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) and has been part of the SOMA program in Mexico City. Her work has been published in Artforum, Mousse Magazine, Cura Magazine, Art in America, Conceptual Fine Arts, El País, La Jornada and RT. She is represented by Jan Kaps in Cologne and by Lodos Gallery in Mexico City.
Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste (b. 1984, Baton Rouge, LA) lives and works in New York, NY. Select exhibitions include: “Inna,” Martos Gallery, New York, NY (2020); “Pendulum Music: An Arrangement for Four Performers and Geodisic Dome,” MoMA PS1, Queens, NY (2018); “Club,” Performance Space New York, New York, NY (2018); “Evil Nigger: A Five Part Performance for Julius Eastman,” The Kitchen, Brooklyn, NY (2018); “Study Of ‘Study Of Three Heads’,” Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA (2018); “Evil Nigger Part IV and Evil Nigger Part V,” Issue Project Room, Brooklyn, NY (2017); “Who Needs To Think When Your Feet Just Go+ Never Not Doing,” The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY (2016). Select awards and residencies include: Bessie Award for Outstanding Music Composition and Sound Design (2018); Issue Project Room Artist-in-Residence (2017); Jerome Foundation Airspace Residency at Abrons Arts Center, New York (2019); Rauschenberg Residency 381 (2019). He is also a founding member of the performance collective Wildcat!. He holds an MFA in Performance and Interactive Media Arts from Brooklyn College and is represented by Martos Gallery in New York.
Jessica Kwok lives and works in New York, NY.
1. Hortense J. Spillers, “Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: An American Grammar Book.” Diacritics, vol. 17, no. 2, 1987, p.67
2. Julia Kristeva, Powers of horror: an essay on abjection (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p.2
4. Richard Taruskin, Defining Russia Musically (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), p.341
5. Stefano Harney & Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study (New York: Minor Compositions, 2013), p.73
COVID-19: There will be a Soft Opening Reception from 2-9pm on March 5th and the gallery will be open from 12-6pm Saturdays, Sundays and by appointment throughout the week. Visitors must wear masks in the gallery spaces at all times and there will be masks and sanitizer available onsite. There will be a limited number of visitors allowed in the spaces and social distancing of six feet will be required. Our courtyard garden will be open for the duration of the exhibition.