A Romp Through A Flesh-Colored Universe: Maria Petschnig’s Video Installations
Maria Petschnig: Petschnigs’ at On Stellar Rays
May 5 to June 16, 2013
133 Orchard Street, between Rivington and Delancey
New York City, 212 598 3012
Winding through the airtight spaces of Maria Petschnig’s video installation gives you a sense that you’re entering the artist’s body. Multiple close-up views over her shoulder or hip, expanses of soft-flesh-colored material and self-referential subject matter create an engulfing interiority that is both disturbing and funny.
The fake paneling and drop ceilings that greet you at the door make you think you’re visiting a plumbing supplier rather than a gallery. Tawdry images in the exhibition’s first video, Vasistas (2013) adds to that sense. A suited, mustachioed man sits behind a desk, while in the foreground a trench coat-wearing Petschnig performs an exhibitionistic dance. Figures in another scene lie on gray shag carpeting, and in a third, the artist stands in front of stacked boxes, her body wrapped in packing tape.
The artist’s back is almost always turned toward the viewer while the material she is facing is blurred. What you see, in fact, is not full-fledged video but footage of the artist superimposed on still photosby green screen. It’s as if you are tagging along on Petschnig’s daily routine, but instead of seeing the world through her eyes, you view a parade of backdrops she has assembled for her own amusement.
As you proceed through a labyrinth of paneled corridors, the feeling of being absorbed into the artists’ physical being becomes palpable. Light levels decrease toward the interior of the building and colors are rendered more uniform. The tan sheets of Mycroft (2013), a mattress plastered on one wall, cover bulging forms that vaguely resemble body parts. Holdmetight (2012) has more bulging forms made of stuffed pantyhose that hang at waist level through the ring of a towel rack. The bulbous material resembles insect larva although thanks to the stockings’ flesh tones it is also penis-like.
Nowhere is flesh more abundant—and more uncomfortably close—than in the final chamber of the exhibition. Here the video Petschniggle (2013) shows figures in various states of undress and of interlock. Two women lather each other up in a tiny tub, their bodies partly sheathed in plastic. The same pair appear later in a tiny shed whose wooden walls resemble the paneling from the gallery walls. With bodies partly cropped it is not clear exactly what the couple is doing but their position is suggestive of “69-ing”
It is shocking but strangely fitting to learn that Petschniggle stars the artist and her twin sister. The installation coalesces as Petschnig’s personal echo chamber. She casts herself in dramas whose other actors are either still photos that she selected or persons whose DNA matches her own. She even titles the work using made-up, self-referential language. What is a Petschniggle, if not a dance done by people named Petschnig? After wandering through this flesh-colored universe of a gallery of ultra-close-up bodies shot in closet-like spaces, you emerge as if ejected from someone’s insides. Fortunately Petschnig’s humor—from the choice of déclassé materials to the Seussian terminology—saves this installation from being angst-ridden, pornographic, or simply grotesque.