Tamar Ettun’s Embodied Sculptures
Tamar Ettun: Alula in Blue at Fridman Gallery
September 19 to October 24, 2015
287 Spring Street (between Hudson and Varick streets)
New York, 646 345 9831
At the center of “Alula in Blue,” Tamar Ettun’s exhibition at Fridman gallery, wedged between the two columns, is a giant ballast. Tied in place with chords and kept inflated by a perpetually blowing fan, the piece Blue Bubble (all works 2015) resembles a stomach or a lung, made from a parachute. Perhaps it was the combination of bright colors, glossy and glistening plastics and the profusion of body parts strewn throughout the gallery, but Ettun’s solo show left me feeling as if I had been dropped into an encompassing and deconstructed version of the always eagerly anticipated childhood game of Operation®. Dispersed throughout the gallery is a working body that breathes and masticates, touches and digests. Orbiting around the inflated-parachute piece are wall-hung sculptures and free-standing totems, with a pair of vignettes in both window spaces. The entire show was constructed on-site from Ettun’s magician’s bag of components. While it was a living breathing body, it is also a handbook for interacting with “foreign objects.”
As with all contemporary user’s guides, a DVD is also included: A Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth Red Feathers Green Feet and a Rose Belly, is a 13-minute performance created during a Watermill Center residency this past winter. Ettun’s dance ensemble, The Moving Company, features seven dancers in shimmering stretchy blue dresses, performing outdoors. Moving and accommodating each other, and they manipulate other objects as well — oversize balloons, large swaths of fabric and bushels of tomatoes. The video is the first of four to be created at the center.
In Ettun’s dance pieces, as in her sculpture, negotiating objects and other bodies is a means of reflecting and incorporating the environment into the self. Her sculptures are cast from her own or other’s bodies, and these writhing polychrome plaster replicas — mostly of hands, but also mouths/faces, backs/buttocks and breasts — perform for us solo, or with partners drawn from a joyous and intriguing array of “inanimate” partners. Woman with Tina’s Hip resembles a classical herm: a hatter’s dummy head is perched atop a blue cardboard cylinder, itself placed on a base made from a re-purposed speaker. What adds the dash of ribald sexuality that marks the herm trope is a draped thin plaster cast of Tina’s back and buttock — giving the perpendicular piece a gesture and movement, and wit. Woman with Tina’s Hip utilizes many alternate visions of the body as sculpture: there are the armless, legless and headless trunks of classical antiquity, the vast and trunkless legs of Egypt, but also the subversively beautiful thalidomide models of Marc Quinn.
The 10 singular hand sculptures and the larger ensemble piece, Parade, are inspired in part by Yvonne Rainer’s tantalizing 1966 piece Hand Movie. While many of these table-top-sized cast pieces are about handling objects (fabric, balls, paintbrushes, bananas), most of them, like Rainer’s film, are about moving one’s own hand and the wonder in the almost sign-language significance contained in each gesture. Fittingly, many of the objects are incorporated into the fingers themselves, as in Hand with Funnels and Hand with Kebab. Not all of these attachments look like they feel so pleasant, and this forced connection of body with object adds to the immediacy of the gesture, Hand with Twisted Fingers and Hand with a Brush positions the fingers behind the knuckles in a show of double-jointed acrobatics that imbues the sculpture with an unpleasant potential energy. Boob with a Nail is a small wall sculpture that tips an erect nipple with a dangerously protruding barb — a symbol of menacing femininity as much as a playful S&M aesthetics.
The act of caressing or holding or positioning a small object is the poetic heart of the work. These seemingly little sculptures, though they are life size, take on an intentionality all their own and very affectingly and sweetly elevate the simplest acts — of standing tall, or holding a flower or brush, or holding each other. The two robin-egg-blue hands lifting a banana in Two Gloves with a Banana look like workmen moving a sofa onto a truck by virtue of their scale! This tenderness is also manifested in Blue Bubble, which within Ettun’s physiological glossary could be the aforementioned stomach, lung or skin, but by virtue of the fact that it is meant to be entered and sat inside, it serves as a cool blue refuge from the frenetic activity of all the appendages outside. Inside the bubble, with the two columns framing the round form on either side, like a pair of hips, it is a quiet womb-like space where one can meditate on big things that seem small on first glance.