Point at Something: “Very Long Fingers” at Simone Subal
Very Long Fingers at Simone Subal Gallery
November 1 to December 20, 2015
131 Bowery, 2nd floor (at Grand Street)
New York, 917 409 0612
“Very Long Fingers,” on view at Simone Subal through December 20th, is a three-person show with the figure as its central focus. The show is dreamy and portal-like in the emergence and reemergence of the figure in the form of a clown, an ampersand, a sphinx, and a bird, among others. There are 14 works, and each is screen-sized and shaped, and feels quite easy to crawl into. Or, rather: it seems as if the figures/fingers might pull the viewer into the larger and longer world inside. Julien Bismuth’s two silent videos, hanging on opposing walls, ground the show in the sad-clown-psychedelic. Tomasz Kowalski’s collages present elongated, creepy figures in funhouse positions. Autumn Ramsey explores the humanness of the animal figure — Red Sphinx (2013), Swirling Bird (2015), Conspicuous Cat (2014), Orange Shape (2014). The artists approach the figure in separate but equally creepy-enticing ways.
In the 160-minute video La Variation Continue (2013), Bismuth presents a silent application and reapplication of clownish makeup on a woman’s face. The screen hangs perpendicular to the wall at slightly below eye-level. The actress’s face is large and present and hands, which apply the makeup, appear and reappear. Across the room, Bismuth’s Willy Billy (2013), hangs on the wall. Whereas La Variation Continue has a dark, backstage-like background, Willy Billy happens outside in daylight. Two men, one in a suit and tie, one in a green jester outfit, apply makeup to one another’s faces. In both of these videos, repetitive, covering/uncovering actions feel absurd and hypnotic. A suitcase rests on a white chair from which the men pluck the makeup products. In Willy Billy, as in La Variation Continue, the figures are foregrounded and displaced. I’m not sure where I am, except that there are clown-figures. But then again, clowns are just people with clown suits/makeup on, right?
Kowalski’s collages are all untitled and all from 2015, save for & (novelty), which depicts an elongated figure stretched into an ampersand. In all of his works the figures are stretched and hypnagogic — creating a lovely tension between pained and comfortable limbs. One collage features what appears to be the same figure seen through many doorways: leg, shoulder, and head poking out. The rest of the body is hidden behind the wall. The figure becomes smaller and smaller and feels reminiscent of a funhouse mirror, only emptier and more disconcerting. The figure bent into a suspended, skinny ampersand appears in two of Kowalski’s collages. In thinking about Kowalski’s work in relation to the title of the show, a figure with very long fingers might be just as curious about the viewer as the viewer is about him. I’m thinking again about the figure in the many doorways, peering out of the paper.
Just as curious are the animal figures in Autumn Ramsey’s paintings: Red Sphinx, Swirling Bird, Little Bird, Conspicuous Cat, Orange Shape. The eyes in these five paintings appear expressive in a human-animal way. In Orange Shape, the outline of a human figure sits next to a resting animal (a cat? a rabbit?) and one human eye looks out from an orange paint cover. Are these paintings of animals or are these paintings of humans in animal suits?
“Very Long Fingers” plays with the amorphous, changing qualities of the figure — the possibilities of melding, projecting, and ongoing processes of revealing and hiding the human body. Presumably, the human body is present in Ramsey’s anthropomorphic animal paintings, Bismuth’s clowns, and Kowalski’s stretched out figures. The figures hide in plain sight, as in Joan Jonas’s Mirror Piece I (1969), where performers carry elongated mirrors in front of their bodies on stage — at times revealing their own bodies and at times flipping the mirrors so that the audience members see themselves. Bismuth, Kowalski, and Ramsey hang together in a space where double and triple takes are foundational. Things are what they seem and then they are not what they seem. Finally, they are what they seem. Repeat. There is a figure under the maquillage. This show asks questions. Or, maybe, this show presents riddles? As in the Jonas’ Mirror Piece, “Very Long Fingers” points back at us.