The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

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MAY 2019 Issue
ArtSeen

ANOHNI: LOVE

ANOHNI, The Johnsons present SHE WHO SAW BEAUTIFUL THINGS, at The Kitchen, April 20, 2019. Photo: Paula Court, © ANOHNI.

The Kitchen
April 3 – May 11, 2019

“I think about holding space for vanishing,” ANOHNI recounts in the press release for this exhibition, “of people, of communities, of biodiversity, in a way that opens into spectral time, leaking all points at once.” LOVE, the exhibition by artist-musician ANOHNI, explores this “spectral time” by bringing together “crises past and present,” proposing a sense of time where past, present, and future collapse. The exhibition is a memorial to the late Dr. Yasuda—a close friend and fellow band member from Antony and the Johnsons, but it also brings together American AIDS activism with imminent ecological disaster, and the horrors of the Holocaust with the current refugee crisis. LOVE asks us to consider a sense of time that is filled with ghosts: questions and legacies that linger into our futures. It explores this primarily through an unconventional and irreverent hanging of new paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and archival video. If the typical conventions of muséal display aim to chart a linear history, or map genealogies, ANOHNI scrambles those through-lines, proposing a haunted sense of time where pasts and futures refuse to settle for the present.

At a glance, the exhibition uses many of the tried-and-true operations of the museum: vitrines, pedestals, and archival material, but a closer inspection reveals something more coy. Five drawings of abstract landscapes hang with their frames touching, like the knees of lovers; small vignettes of goopy, wax-covered sculptures of found objects sit in, on, and around the sides of pedestals; wet hair sandwiches itself in the panes of a plexiglass vitrine holding rings made of the ends of candle wax; and screen-prints of trees and fauna lounge off the back of pedestals. If these objects chart a gaze, it is a hazy, circular one, one that asks you to look with, below, and around an object as much as at the object itself. On the edges of the room, four columns of paper clippings of ecological disaster, missing people, and endangered animals are taped upside down, like totems leading your eye up and down at the same time. These playful spatial constellations of current events and personal anecdotes look to complicate, rather than simplify the narrated past.

ANOHNI’s use of archival material further explores this notion of “spectral time.” Dr. Yasuda’s personal research library greets you upon entrance, while a recorded conversation between her and ANOHNI plays softly around it. Nearby, a plush sofa that belonged to ANOHNI’s grandmother seats a gallery attendant. Next to the bookcase, a facsimile of Marsha P. Johnson’s death certificate sits in a painting by ANOHNI. The certificate, in many ways, acts as a key to understanding the urgency of this sort of ghostly thinking. It lists the death of “Malcolm Michaels,” Johnson’s legal name, alluding to the gross elisions of social life that dominant bureaucratic histories bury, and the real lives that an alternative, ghostly sense of history might recover. Elsewhere, in a large vitrine, ANOHNI re-contextualizes press clippings of environmental disaster and trans rights activism with small annotations—loving inscriptions and doodles. We might think of these annotations as a form of intimacy; an object lesson in the ways we salvage our futures from our pasts.

ANOHNI, The Johnsons present SHE WHO SAW BEAUTIFUL THINGS, at The Kitchen, April 20, 2019. Photo: Paula Court, © ANOHNI.

As a memorial to Dr. Yasuda, LOVE also posits a more celebratory, sensuous timbre to mourning. With its theatrical lighting and ambient music, the room feels at different points like a church or a library, but also not unlike a bar or a club. There is a tangible energy to the conversations that the works have with each other. ANOHNI speaks of her work as deeply animist, with “different presences ricocheting among the moments and objects.” In the far-right corner, a spindly, tall figure wrapped in burlap is called “the witch,” while on the other side of the room, high on the wall, the skin of an upholstered sofa is called “the angel.” In the center of the space, a white, oblong egg called “the soul” hangs pensively with a discarded chrysalis of torn paper below it. In LOVE, ANOHNI’s works talk to each other, and we are caught in the cross-fire. Little notes scattered throughout the room help us eavesdrop: “End of mammalia,” “The monarch butterfly says choose hope,” “Go through this door (if you are sorry for what you did).” Longing, desire, and faith complicate ANOHNI’s sense of mourning, and her proposition for a spectral time.

Immiscible temporalities is a phrase that film scholar Bliss Cua Lim uses to describe the heterogeneous texture of histories that refuse to be incorporated into dominant or essentialized narratives, the way that oil suspends itself in water.1 In the same way, the stakes of a spectral time are not a clamoring for inclusion or a retroactive re-fitting, but rather a rejection of successive patriarchal logics wholesale, and a subsequent counter-proposal for a “spectral time” that might allow to us to escape, or amend, the violences of our current condition. ANOHNI’s history doesn’t want to be cast as an actor in your play; she wants to write it. And it is through her invocation of the absences that are always present, in “holding space for vanishing,” that we see glimpses of what that world might be.




  1. Lim, Bliss Cua. Translating Time: Cinema, the Fantastic, and Temporal Critique. Manila: Ateneo De Manila University Press, 2011, 32.

Contributor

Simon Wu

Simon Wu is an artist based in New York. He is a 2018-2019 Helena Rubinstein Curatorial Fellow at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program and serves as the Program Coordinator for The Racial Imaginary Institute.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2019

All Issues