Inside the Spider’s Body
Solo Exhibition Curated by Rachel Adams, Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, Dec 10th 2020- April 24th 2021
The title for the show was taken from a 1971 poem by Adrienne Rich titled ‘Incipience’ from her book titled ‘Diving into the Wreck’. The poem begins:
To live, to lie awake
Under scarred plaster
While ice is forming over the earth
At an hour when nothing can be done
To further any decision
To know the composing of the thread
Inside the spider’s body
First atoms of the web
To feel the fiery future
of every matchstick in the kitchen
This idea of stasis, of dreaming of change and action, of the first stirrings of transformation really resonated with the beginnings of this year under lockdown. But while the poem begins with a very intimate, personal musing on creation and transformation, it ends by considering the larger collective experience of women working to change their circumstances, to voice their opinions and stories. The last lines read:
A man is asleep in the next room
He has spent a whole day
Standing, throwing stones into the black pool
Which keeps its blackness
Outside the frame of his dream we are stumbling up the hill
Hand in hand, stumbling and guiding each other
Over the scarred volcanic rock.
The themes of this body of work are realized through a cycle of making and unmaking. Of physically building up and tearing down, of constructing and deconstructing events that rely on an ever-changing configuration of characters and sets, weaving together the personal, political and historical. Like most of my work, this show presents an interrelated, transmutable collection of objects, whose meaning is determined by their relationship to each other. Each work becomes as Merleau-Ponty says ‘a mirror of all others’.
I read somewhere that a spider sometimes eats her web to replenish her supply of silk. I have an impulse in my work to sacrifice preciousness and stability in service of an ongoing creative cycle of destruction and renewal.
Subject matters in this show are wide ranging and include the historic scenic French wallpaper depicting the American Revolution installed in the Diplomatic Reception room at the White House, experiences growing up in a Transcendental Meditation community in Iowa, the life of the artist Joan Brown, ‘Pando’-a stand of quaking aspen trees considered to be one of the largest and oldest living organisms on earth, and the writings of Merleau-Ponty.
Threaded through all of my work is an interest in the intersection between painting and performance, figure and ground, and the depiction of women’s bodies in ways that challenge the Western Art Cannon and women’s position in society more broadly. The show included collaborative performances with Laeree Lara and David Hurlin.
Suffering From Realness
Joey Fauerso’s work also exists in between things: between painting and sculpture; between film and performance; between humor and tragedy. This vacillation comes from her dedication to blending life with art. Like many artists, Fauerso used to keep her studio practice separate from her home life. That all changed when, at thirty-eight years of age, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While undergoing treatment, Fauerso witnessed her two young sons playing a game of pretend they called “Dog Hospital.” She overheard phrases like, “These are the operators” and “These are the rescue persons,” realizing that her boys were processing what was happening to their mother. In this moment, Fauerso understood that she could not longer silo the relationship of herself to her body, to her children/family, and to her work. As a result, she started to blend these worlds together, turning her children’s game of pretend into the artist book Dog Hospital(2015), in which we see the “operators”—tuxedoed men with surgical masks—and the “rescue persons”—tender portraits of her sons.
When the political landscape turned topsy-turvy in 2016, Fauerso wanted to address her own “visceral response to living in the United States during a time of total political and moral collapse.” To do this, she turned to her sons once again, overhearing her younger say to her elder: “You destroy everything special I make,” turning a sibling conflict into an achingly accurate description of how the artist felt after Trump was elected. This phrase became the title of a mixed-media installation. The other thing to change in Fauerso’s studio was her desire to cease using carcinogenic painting materials, leading to a technique akin to mono-printing. Covering canvas with a thin field of non-toxic paints, Fauerso uses spatulas, squeegees, cloth, and other tools to create quick, gestural images. It is a reductive technique, where she takes away paint, allowing the image to emerge. She uses this tactic in You Destroy Everything Special I Make(2017‒19), where a series of monochromatic drawings casually spill across the wall: a funeral ceremony on the Ganges; Joan of Arc at a pyre looking longingly upwards; a vertical pile of women’s bodies neatly nestled into one another. These images come from a place of anxiety—for women’s bodies, for war, for the human condition. Amongst these images are blocks of wood, small arrangements of built environments, layering the work with complexity. Adjacent to this tableau is a series of videos in which Fauerso worked with her sons and her friends to build and knock down various constructions. The soundtrack is thundering, and the act of toppling is satisfying, playful, aggressive, and cathartic. The building and rebuilding plays in a continuous loop, much like the cycle of politics and life. This work also conjures the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, meaning “fixing up,” and referring to deeds of kindness performed to repair the world. Despite the political and moral collapse from which Fauerso started, it is clear that, through this work, she and her family are performing acts of Tikkum Olam.
-Denise Markonish, Senior Curator, Managing Director of Exhibitions, MASS MoCA
A Soft Opening
The phrase “a soft opening” carries a double meaning—the test run of plays and restaurants and the phantasmagoria of orifices, Cronenbergian portals. The common denominator of these two meanings is uncertainty, fluidity, flux. One never knows what will happen opening night when the red curtains draw back.
Joey Fauerso’s kinetic solo exhibition, her second at David Shelton Gallery, revels in the flash of possibilities. Across text, painting, film and sound, Fauerso luxuriates in a coiled chaos, telescoping from the whimsical, joyful intrigues of family to the dark, cresting tides arising from a year where the world is gripped with hatred and panic.
In Attendance, a six-minute video that splices earthy images of familial play with tactile, stark paintings and a serene ghostly long take of the ocean—all to a minimal metronomic score—euphoria and unease pervade. There is the sense and terror that things are always transitioning faster than one can process.
In Utopia, a painted tapestry of medieval proportions, men carry each other to and from a snaking, humid river. It’s unclear whether they are hurting or helping, whether it’s a grim death ritual or a rescue. Though depicted in metallic tones, it feels like steaming Technicolor, charged with the blood rush of immediacy and peril.
Similarly, one mono-print piece titled Contrast interjects the text: “Pretend You are A Newborn Baby” with smeared, swirled faces electric with sensory overload. The hinge flutters like butterfly wings between terror and wonder.
Several of the works space longer, surreally didactic poems with Fauerso’s monochrome paintings. Some of the text from the poems comes from things said by her children during make-believe games. As Fauerso states, “When children play and make-believe, the assigning of meaning and value is incredibly fluid. There is an elasticity to the naming of things.” These sequences are simultaneously instructive and disorienting, and much of the meaning alights and connects through the process of arranging.
The exhibition is inspired by Fauerso’s life, family, what she reads and what is happening in the world. Fauerso is keenly aware of the gap between these streams and the way they lattice together. Marcel Duchamp once referred to the space between components as the “infra-slim”, and suggested meaning could be located within this invisible seam. As A Soft Opening demonstrates, the infra-slim goes on forever.