Putting the Gore into Phantasmagoria: Dasha Shiskin at Zach Feuer
Dasha Shishkin’s Desaparecido at Zach Feuer Gallery
May 6 – June 11, 2011
548 West 22nd Street, between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212 989 7700
In electric, Kool-Aid-colored acid fever-dreams Dasha Shishkin depicts death, amputation, glamour, deviance, ritual, and the mundane, often all at once. The narratives are obscure, veiled by an abundance of line and color delineating violent and quotidian moments with equal dispassion.
The title of Shishkin’s current exhibition at Zach Feuer Gallery, Desaparecido, translates as “one who has been disappeared,” and every one of the hominoid creatures in her phantasmagorical world could easily be “disappeared” at any moment. Recurrent motifs of coffins, dismembered torsos, severed breasts and phalluses abound, though the horrors are apparently routine for the inhabitants – the breasts are served prettily on a platter in a cannibalistic patisserie, and judging by the number of mutilated living corpses scattered about smoking cigarettes, they are quite fresh. The sketchy markmaking and cluttered splotchy surfaces camouflage a ferocity simmering under the surface.
To focus entirely on the macabre grotesquery of Shishkin’s imagery would be (however pruriently satisfying) a shame, for there is great beauty here as well. A gleeful riot of color runs through her exhibition like a hybrid beast escaped from her paintbrush. It is unabashedly pleasing, as is her delicate linear style, despite the barbarities depicted. Though the artist has often been compared to Egon Schiele and Henry Darger – her predecessors both in style and content – hers is an entirely new synthesis of delirium and graphically compelling presentation. The inhabitants of her fantastical land are mutant creatures with human limbs and distorted features – elongated phallic or devilishly pointed noses abound. Sometimes the figures are clothed in grey dresses; occasionally they sport rat-like tails. Their skin tones range from pale pink to bright green to a Simpsons yellow.
These quasi-people enact celebration scenes, funerals, bizarre medical procedures and scientific experiments. In Butter is the Passport to Pleasure, slender pink and blue figures are served wine at a long banquet table in a spacious interior decorated with palm fronds, while small figures lie end-to-end in caskets before them. With the Dark Comes Dinner I Hope depicts graceful yellow female figures, sporting high heels and rodent tails, carrying bright pink and red coffins, upon which sit comely polka-dotted sprites with ferns for hands. In A Boy’s Best Friend is His Mother one of the few male figures disgorges red berry-like entrails while a female torso gives birth to tiny birds in a hospital-like environment with a tiled floor. All Prayer All the Time presents a similarly medical interior where elaborate human and animal dissection takes place – perhaps experimental cross breeding or a search for a cure has gone drastically awry. Though the scattered body parts and ever-present splatters of red paint could have sprung from the demented dreams of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, there are rare moments of heroism to counter-balance the savagery. The rare outdoor scene of Sure Like Shite Sticks to the Blanket shows a chain of grey-clad figures rescuing one of their own from a perilous fall from a grassy cliff. Though sometimes these beings function as food for one another, apparently there is also a sense of community, even caring. Clearly this strange brutal world has an order to it, albeit one that is impossible to comprehend.
It is tempting to read an intended social commentary into Shishkin’s works – could this frightening yet strangely alluring world be a nightmare mirror image of our own, where brutality, aggression, and the fatality of life itself are laid bare for our examination? It is possible, yet perhaps a too-literal interpretation. After all, the artist deliberately obfuscates the reading of her works with catchy yet unrelated titles;for example, Enthusiasm is a Fever of Reason.