Sensing Absent Bodies: Amanda Turner Pohan at FiveMyles
Amanda Turner Pohan: Desiring to be Data for Others at FiveMyles Gallery
Curated by Carl E. Hazlewood
January 23 through February 21, 2016
558 St Johns Place (between Classon and Franklin avenues)
Brooklyn, 718 783 4438
To walk through FiveMyles Gallery is to wade through a room thick with a palpable scent, spiced like cinnamon with the strength of musk. The space feels eerily empty, save for three spotlit works. They rest, silent and static, waiting to be activated. Amanda Turner Pohan’s solo show, “Desiring to be Data for Others,” is charged.
On the left, 18 bottles of Pulsating (2016) is affixed to the wall — clear Plexiglas shelves surrounding a medicine cabinet mirror. An uncomfortably rigid metal chair awaits a subject to be reflected. 15 glass bottles, symmetrically displayed along the shelves, surround the mirror. Each bottle is wrapped in a semi-transparent label resembling standardized nutrition facts for foodstuffs. But where “nutrition facts” would have been written, the text instead reads “Pulsating.” “Shower Fluid (8 oz)” replaces “Serving Size.” “Bodies” replaces “Amount per Serving.” Duration, Element, Time in seconds, Pulse in heartbeats, and Breath in ppm of CO2 are the new indices with which we are concerned. Instead of corresponding percentages of recommended daily values, corresponding essences (in drops of essential oils) have been recorded: cypress, parsley, and fir needle. The lighting of this dramatic scene further replicates each bottle into three shadows (or additional bottles in the case of those set in front of the mirror).
To understand the content of these bottles, a viewer must take in the rest of the scene. Behind the chair, closer to the opposite wall, a corner shower has been installed to stand with its back exposed so that the piping mechanism is visible. The shower is illuminated from within; the effect resembles a halo. While condensation obscures the view into the shower from the front doors, the side panels are clearer. A brown pool of viscous fluid gels around the drain with seemingly clear water dripping from the showerhead above. Walking behind the shower, one can understand this closed loop: an opaque plastic container, like a gasoline jug, both feeds the water supply and retains waste liquid from the drain. Input becomes output becomes input, changing simply by being processed by the system. But where did this fluid originate? Return to the glass bottles and the apparently closed loop of the shower expands to include the mirror scene; what once seemed like a sparse room immediately feels as dense as its pervading scent.
The shower fluid has then gone through several stages. In order to create this melange of essential oils, the artist broke down the human breathing mechanism into measurable elements. Pohan then translated those recorded quantities into scents. The number of bottles implies a repeated procedure, though it is unclear if each bottle contains a different scent from a different human given the obscurity of their labels. Finally, Pohan returned the fluid to a zone of intimacy and human “waste” (like CO2) in the shower.
If this intricate system requires such significant labor from the artist, why does it feel as though the artist had no part in this installation, as though these scenes simply exist? The impersonality of each component — rigid chair, sterile shower, and uniform medicinal bottles corresponding to nameless bodies — lends an institutionalized quality to the work. There is little inherent humanness to these mass-produced products despite their latent sexuality (in this room, or in the context of their domestic purpose) and relation to an individual human body performing a ritualistic exercise.
The third piece in the room, Remnants and residues from my deceased mothers rug (2016), appears distant from the others — a mat of many-colored fibers pasted to a clear material hangs horizontally on the far wall. This mat, we read, is an imprint of the artist’s late grandmother’s carpet, which has accumulated such debris as hair, threads, crumbs and dirt over time. The seemingly abstract composition is then in fact the residue of the remains of a chance performance (presumably by several people) of daily rituals and relationships. While this work relates to the shower and mirror scenes by virtue of its interest in the relationship between intimacy and institutional frameworks, its process reveals an unravelling of the artist’s control over performance and representation. While a series of procedures distanced the shower scene from the original “performers” of the work (the work being the creation of the breathing measurements that became the fluid), the carpet fiber imprint is forensically related to specific bodies and actions. The artist’s (and viewer’s) desire to quantify, sterilize, and reflect on the body from a distance falls apart in the realization that none of these works severs its tie to embodiment; instead, we are made nauseous by the presence of absent bodies.