On ViewSoloway Gallery
What a Fuck and What the Fuck
Brooklyn, New York
This season marked by social space and societal severance is a poignant time to consider memory. The markers and footnotes of our days and the metronomes of our weeks have been significantly altered—if not vanished entirely. With an ever-adjusting daily cadence and the suppression of consciousness caused by the trauma of an unending and indefinite climate, the mind is divorced from the actions.
Memory, both collective and individual, is explored in What a Fuck and What the Fuck, a two-person exhibition of Phoebe d’Heurle (b. 1987, Atlanta, GA) and Hadi Fallahpisheh (b. 1987, Tehran, Iran) at Soloway. The title was borne in a domestic scene wherein d’Heurle and Fallahpisheh discussed the absence of soap bars in their shared home. The work in the exhibition exposes and explores suppressed personal events within an associative framework.
In What a Fuck and What the Fuck d’Heurle presents four photographs and two sculptures. In the photographs, the artist’s nude body is upside down and vertical. With her feet positioned at the top of the work, the hands below are frozen in action, serving two purposes: one finger-paints the word C-U-N-T adding one letter to each quadrant in each frame—starting with T in the lower right—and the other holds a color bar.
By presenting a nude standing in a soft contrapposto, as in NT (2019), d’Huerle references an art historical canon inextricably linked to sexualizing the body. Color bars make possible the mass dissemination of works of art, creating a collective narrative and helping to ensure that hues, shades, and palates of the reproduced match the original. In d’Heurle’s work, the acrylic color bar is painted atop the photographs, humanizing and individualizing tropes of female subjects in a satirical fashion that targets the persistent circulation value of the nude figure. The defiance of propriety is crystalized in the painting of a color corrective tool atop a black-and-white image.
D’Heurle’s aversion to bars of soap is rooted in an experience of having to cleanse her mouth to learn a lesson about forbidden, dirty words—”cunt” being one of them. As the word comes to appear boldly on the walls behind the artist, model, and performer, the expression changes. In NT, the color bar covers her breast and her exposed face reveals the expression of a woman gleefully caught in the act. It’s the triumphant, exaggerated smile one might make upon learning the rules, and willfully breaking them. The liberty of being incorrect.
In CUNT (2019), the expression is dramatically different. It is one of harnessed and seductive power. In order to complete the word, the artist bends her knees and turns her back to the camera. She looks over her shoulder at the audience as the color bar covers her rear. The work brings to mind Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s iconic nude, La Grande Odalisque (1814), in which Ingres took the liberty of creating an unnaturally elongated spine, affording more space for a sexualized torso, while sheets partially cover the figure’s rear. D’Heurle’s work uses her personal frame to reconfigure and disorient the canonized version of the nude. Through the visualization of her personal narrative and a word linked to a past trauma, d’Heurle exposes tropes and reframes a conversation around voyeurism, transmission, and repetition.
Fallahpisheh’s totemic work consists of a rectangular stack of three horizontal planes and two standing sculptures. A rug hanging from the ceiling in the corner is a primary diversion. Fixed atop this element is Please No (2019), made in Fallahpisheh’s signature gesture using only light and photographic paper. In a darkroom, unable to see his hand nor work from a sketch, he draws from recall. The resulting burn is a mouse frozen in the palm of a human hand. With an open eye and an erect tail, the creature is attentive, aware of the viewer’s presence as if it carries the knowledge of experience, understanding the chase that comes next. Like d’Heurle’s body, the hairless vermin is upside down. Its scale and centrality elevate the rodent’s credence to that of the nude. As the creature stands on the rug each component of the work is in dialogue with the next, creating a dynamic mosaic that challenges canonized and normative hierarchy.
Two of Fallahpisheh’s ceramic cats are positioned between an arched doorway cut away from a plane of cardboard that sits beneath the photograph. If anatomically correct, the felines would be face-to-face. Instead, their faces are shaped like plates positioned on a table. Underneath the tail is another arched doorway. This one leading into the doomed body of the animal. The perfect vestibule and the perfect home for a vermin. The games of cat and mouse echo the way that memory may interact with consciousness. The cat—playing the role of active mind, hunting for recall—and the mouse, an embodiment of a suppressed experience.
Giving credence to his father’s suggestion that soap be used as a bowel lubricant when applied around the rectum, at seven, Fallahpisheh misunderstood and inserted the object. With such knowledge, the entry to the mouse’s home through the rear can be read in a new context and the interwoven exhibit proves to be an affront to both memory and assumption. The motif of the arch—seen in the doorways and two cardboard windows— reinforces a domestic space and the multitude of prescribed assumptions and events it carries.
All the creatures in this exhibition share a discourse. In addition to Fallahpisheh’s mouse and cats, d’Heurle includes two chicks—amorphous baby birds perched heavily atop rough mounds. In a poetic, impossible effort, d’Heurle offers these animals a chance to fly. Before they enter the kiln, she throws them from the table to the ground. After lifting them, the chicks are humanized with expressions. Fall #1 has a simple, satisfied smile and two rhinestone eyes. The synthetic polymer gemstones capture the viewer’s gaze. The work winks back in a nod to the collective assumptions confronted by the exhibition using the tools of memory and disruption.