The Mattress in Yvonne Rainer’s Parts of Some Sextets (1965)

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This paper analyses the mattress as a key support in the early choreographic practice of Yvonne Rainer (1934-). Rainer’s mid-career memoir, Work 1961-73 (1974), features an appendix titled ‘Etymology of objects, configurations, and characters’, which tracks the use of props across her time with the Judson Dance Theater (New York, 1962–) and thereafter. Rainer has pointed to the ‘multiple dramatic and psychological connotations’ that underwrite the mattress: sleep, illness, comfort and sex all lure the spectator to read proto-feminist elements into the dance work. Through a close reading of Parts of Some Sextets (1965), I want to situate the mattress against the ‘discussion about work, task and the elimination of stylisation’ that has come to typify this period of Rainer’s practice. It is important for my argument that the seduction induced by the performance misreads the mattress, which only appears to literalise such a discussion. That this prop disabuses a reading of task-oriented movement speaks to the vitality of image and illusion in Rainer’s work. Rather than defer to aesthetic discourse, however, I want to reframe the mattress by turning to feminist revisionary readings of Hannah Arendt’s account of the private, as forwarded by political theorists including Linda Zerilli and Bonnie Honig. As the latter has written: ‘The human body is, for Arendt, a master signifier of necessity, irresistibility, imitability, and the determination of pure process.’ In closing, I will present a more recent, feminist performance that deploys the mattress on the University campus, after Ana Mendieta’s Untitled (Rape Scene), 1973. Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance (Carry that Weight), (2014-15) brings the spectator’s private, domestic attachment to the mattress into question, in a way that sheds light on Rainer’s earlier project.

*This abstract belongs to a paper that I will present at the 13th International AHRA conference, to be held at the Royal Institute of Technology, in Stockholm, later this year. The theme of this year’s conference is “Architecture and Feminisms: Ecologies, Economies and Technologies”

S-105 (Eva Hesse, 1968) and the Matter of interpreting the “Not Quite artwork”


S–105 is both one and a part of Eva Hesse’s leftovers from her New York studio practice of the late sixties. My paper concerns the art historian Briony Fer’s writing about these castoffs. In 2009, Fer curated a monographic exhibition she titled “Studiowork” that I was lucky enough to visit twice, at the Camden Arts Centre in London and again at the Fodació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona. The designation “Studiowork” is subsumptive in the way of a concept; it supersedes the critic Lucy Lippard’s “test pieces”, taken from her 1976 monograph on Hesse, and organises a group of secondary and predicative terms that are worked through over the course of Fer’s catalogue essay, among them, “sub-object”, “obscure specimen of natural history”, “specimen without a species”, “art historian’s nightmare”, “remainders of remainders”, and most provisionally of all, perhaps, the “not-quite” artwork. Anne Wagner has elsewhere attended to ‘the titles that, with considerable deliberation, Hesse adopted for her sculptural works’ (309), but here I want to focus on the art-historical exchange between Eva Hesse and Briony Fer, and in so doing I hope to address a key question of the ‘Image Matter’ call for papers, namely: How can writing about and through art accommodate affective objects?


Selected almost at random, I argue that S–105 is typical of this inquiry. It is hemmed in by the conceptual act of naming and subject to readings of mimetic inscription. And again I refer to… an offcut of fibreglass through which pieces of rubber tubing have been threaded. ‘Of course’, Briony Fer writes, ‘the indirect and tangential connections are everywhere – and to everything – if we choose to see it.’ (23). Consider the following observation about Hesse’s practice made by the art historian Anna Chave:

Layered as it is with abstract references to female anatomy – with forms suggestive of breasts, clitorises, vaginas, foetuses, uteruses, fallopian tubes, and so forth – Hesse’s art might be considered a visual demonstration of écriture feminine, the practice of a woman “writing the body” recently espoused by some French feminists. (100)

What I imagine Briony Fer would aim towards, instead of this convergence on theory, would be the close reading of an as-yet-unnamed ‘specimen of an unusual sort [that is], not [of] any body we would recognise’ (110). The difference to Anna Chave’s reading exemplifies the basic formal integrity of Fer’s art-historical practice, from which only a provisional orientation can develop; one that, in the words of Hesse, approaches ‘non-art, non-connotive, non-anthropomorphic, non-geometric, non, nothing, everything, but of another kind, vision, sort, from a total other reference point’.

In the catalogue essay Studiowork Fer everywhere reads against the “cult of pathos” in Hesse scholarship that, as she sees it, first transmutes the artist’s tragic death into the fragility of latex, gauze, rubber, before recovering identical clues to a body of work that, undergoing the chemical process of disintegration, is itself in the process of dying. Suspended between the provision of due care and a total industry of reverence, ‘each is for the other the middle term.’ Yes, identifications proliferate – and there are many instances in Fer’s essay that confirm or confront this; what concerns me here, however, is not how Fer criticises this interpretive tendency in general. Instead, I want to focus on how the semiotic act of naming intervenes into this proliferation, i.e. into that which modulates this naming in turn, and what the implications of this are for writing about Hesse’s work.

I was born in Hamburg, Germany. My father was a criminal lawyer. He had just finished his two doctorates and I had the most beautiful mother in the world. She looked like Ingrid Bergman and she was manic depressive. She studied art in Hamburg. My sister was born in 1933 and I was born in 1936. Then in 1938 there was a children’s pogrom. I was put on a train with my sister.


So Eva Hesse tells Cindy Nemser during an Artforum interview published in the same month of her death, May 1970. To recapitulate: Hesse left Hamburg in 1938 via Kindertransport before emigrating with her family to New York a year later. At the height of Abstract Expressionism she received training in the application of colour and shape from Josef Albers at Yale, through a programme that he evolved from the Bauhaus’s Vorkurs, or “preliminary course”. In 1965 Hesse undertook an artist’s residency in the defunct upper part of a textiles factory in Kettwig-an-der-Ruhr, Germany. There she began to work in relief with industrial materials left over from the production process, as well as those leftovers delivered to her by workers laid off from the factory. A year later and in New York again, Hesse purchased latex and other industrial materials from a store on Canal Street in order to produce small and large-scale sculptural works. In addition to these Hesse experimented with smaller test pieces, in some cases barely modifying the material in hand . Upon the event of her death in 1970 at the age of thirty-four from a malignant brain tumour that her main assistant Doug Johns believed was a consequence of prolonged exposure to latex, whose labour in turn was required by Hesse through bouts of hospitalisation and intensive surgery, through which she turned her hand to the lightness and strength of paper, drawn over, at times, at others, lent form, the contents of Hesse’s Bowery studio were packed in cardboard boxes by her sister, Helen Charash, and transported to the Berkeley Museum Archive.

How is the art historian to proceed when confronted with this data? Cynically, the literary theorist Leo Bersani writes the following sentence in The Culture of Redemption (1990): ‘Experience may be overwhelming, practically impossible to absorb, but it is assumed that the work of art has the authority to master the presumed raw material of experience in a manner that uniquely gives value to, perhaps even redeems, that material.’ Bersani is wary of the writer who, positing loss, permits himself to conceptualise on behalf of, and through means other to it, the processes of thought that went in to the work. But Bersani has in mind certain modernists, like Proust and Benjamin, and a lateral focus on the pastoralizing of gay sex during the US AIDS crisis. In The Melancholy Art (2013), the art historian Michael Ann Holly mitigates this polemic with a disciplinary qualification:

The practice of art history provides an oxymoronic twist to this by-now-common characterization. The very materiality of objects with which we deal presents historians of art with an interpretive paradox absent in other historical inquiries, for works of art are at the same time lost and found, past and present. (98).

As Holly suggests, it is insofar as the art historian is joined to her object-of-study via the material transactions and –substantiations of Einfühlung, “in-feeling”, empathy, that a paradox emerges. In the first moment, the exercise of kinship in the face of the artwork discovers the following incommensurability : ‘Something remains; something gets left over long after explanations are exhausted’. (97). In the second moment, the art historian negates this relation of kinship in order to restore the commensurability of the artwork, and in doing so involuntarily delivers the object of art history to the data of the history of art. For Holly, the to-and-fro of this paradox constitutes art history’s elegiac basis in melancholy; i.e., its basis in that which constantly relicenses and returns us to this this density of attention. There is a question here about disciplinary fields of inquiry: where Holly and Bersani are variously concerned with how experience makes of interpretation an object of pensive unrest, Briony Fer is engaged with things, and the kinds of thinking these as-yet-unnamed not-quite artworks make possible. As I now want to consider, Fer’s Studiowork practices a formalist logic that recognises and moves beyond the kind of interpretive unrest just outlined.

I want to focus on Fer’s notably different kind of question: What if this thing is my model of thought? It has become like a refrain, or mnemonic for me in writing this paper. How does Fer respond to the ‘something remains’ of the artwork, without producing identifications, or turning on the tools of interpretation? I want to consider a long quotation from Studiowork in which Fer describes Hesse’s ‘creative work’:

It is something about the way art gets made out of not just the material stuff of everyday life, but its habitual rhythms. The very fact that Hesse’s living and working spaces intersected made this reciprocity all the keener. All this may not sound momentous enough to account for the kind of creative work that Hesse was involved in. But that would be precisely my point: that great outpourings of expressive feelings are not relevant to making art. Much more so is the both simple and complex fact of how you group things together… It is an intricate pattern of thought made visible in actions of handling, placing, removing and replacing. Sub-objects from this point of view, tend not to come singly. They are ruled by pure contingency, which makes it possible for a studio leftover to turn so readily into a new idea or even a new work. (76).

Briony Fer places a thesis-like emphasis on the phrase how you group things together. Grouping things together describes Hesse’s ‘creative work’, but it could equally refer to the iconographical labour of the art historian. In its material and conceptual variations, this string of words captures in English the sense that inheres to the German word for ‘concept’, Begriff, which refers both to the object as it falls under a concept, but also to the tangible properties belonging to it. As this passage indicates, grouping things together involves a form of recognition that is rooted in the ‘habitual rhythms’ of ‘the artist’s living and working spaces’. By dwelling in these spaces, the historian is inured to ‘an intricate pattern of thought made visible in actions of handling, placing, removing and replacing’, and because the studiowork ‘throws presuppositions about form and process in the air’ (38), process and form are found to be retrievable as long as words are being combined via an ‘iconography [that] is contingent rather than inherent’ (171).

The ‘not-quite’ staves off that ‘something remains’; it is the ‘not-quite’ that keeps the beat going; the ‘not-quite’ that, being ‘work without making a work’ (24), adds its work to the work of the historian. Out of this ‘pure contingency’, then, comes the promise of ‘a new idea or even a new work’.

Yet something does still remain. The ‘material stuff of [Hesse’s] everyday life’ may enter into some kind of reciprocity, but this ‘material stuff’ is not – at least ‘not quite’ – transmuted into those habitual, now bipartite rhythms, and it is not for us to veil the social division of labour that separates the artist from the historian by hypostatising the historian’s inference about the artist “thinking through material”. The studiowork does obtain to a positive value (this is what allows it to be grouped together), but the value it does have, is shared out through its material processes. […]

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In the last section of this paper, and because S–105 is only typical of this inquiry, I want to consider a major late work whose borders are patrolled by the studiowork. As Fer tells, ‘[Contingent] was made for the [1969] exhibition ‘Art in Process IV’ that was held at Finch College Museum of Art, New York… [It] consisted of eight sheets made of cheesecloth to which various sections of latex and fibreglass were attached.’ (174). For Rosalind Krauss, Contingent locates, even redeems, a quotient of expression at the ‘boundary between the institutions of painting and sculpture’ (32); she writes that, ‘In the language of anamorphosis… we are positioned at the edge from which the meaning of death is understood literally as the condition of the world disappearing from view’. But notice how this language expresses Hesse’s mastery of 60s minimalist discourse through that legend long imaged by Artforum’s May 1970 cover; in other words, Krauss identifies a metonym.

Pivoting on that other kind of studiowork, the notation, Fer returns her reader to the index of ‘how you group things together’ with an observation about Contingent taken from the artist’s notebooks : ‘Piece is in many parts. Each in itself is a complete statement.’ (174). Hesse’s ‘looking process’ is then tested out against S–168 and S–169, the ‘not-quite’ artworks that border Contingent and, when grouped together, form a ‘working process’. First, the particularity of S–168, which Hesse gifted to her friend Naomi Specter, exacerbates the artist’s sense that the eight sheets of Contingent are possibly eight works, with those eight works possibly devolving to others besides. Taller in scale, more composite in comparison, S–169 diverges from S–168 through the ‘addition of fibreglass’ to its coat of cheesecloth and latex; an addition that, when viewed inductively, suggests why in Contingent ‘the visual and the tactile are impossible to separate.’ (177). Fer opens up a clearing between Contingent and its two test pieces, through which the presence of ‘different modalities of viewing’ – of which Krauss’s ‘language of anamorphosis’ is canonically one – are to be considered. Glimmers of art world discourse still remain, but these glimmers are now contingent upon how the work is grouped in relation to the studiowork of the artist’s ‘living and working spaces’. Out of this comes the possibility of ‘another kind of optical scope or device’ (180) :

If you look close-up you can see the gauze just showing through like the ghost of a vast and spidery grid… In her statement on Contingent, Hesse wrote: ‘see through, non see through, consistent, inconsistent, enclosed tightly by glass like encasement just hanging there.’ Not a glass box any longer, but it is almost as if the function of the glass sides of a display case is now literally embedded in the materials. (179-180).

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Sol Lewitt first came up with the idea of containing his friend’s ‘small gifts’ in a commercial pastry case; his method of installation was to lay the studiowork side by side, in twos, as if they were to be viewed in a museum setting, as commodities, or during an anatomy class, like specimens to-be-dissected. Yet Hesse, as Fer writes, ‘was afraid… of what she often referred to as ‘prettiness’ and the kind of preciousness that is easier to recognise than it is to explain.’ (110). The most extended formal reading in Fer’s Studiowork describes Hesse’s reworking of the function of the display case. The lower shelf is thickened with round metal washers, while small objects and materials fill the gaps between the allotted studiowork. Through ‘layering and the multiplication of layers’ (106), Hesse’s additions stimulate a ‘cross-fire between pieces’ (101) that no longer retain ‘clear formal divisions’ (97). I believe that Fer’s formalist approach captures the ‘cross-fire’ between the studiowork that is ‘literally embedded in the materials’ of a work like Contingent.

The names, tags and passwords by which Fer constantly reorients the “not-quite” artwork are provisional (always), additive, (con)textual and on the move; together they form a preponderance that is at one with ‘the way in which work circulates inside and outside the studio and is in permanent movement’ (114). As I see it, Briony Fer recognises that the “something remains” of interpretation is akin to the “not quite” of the artwork; in Studiowork this recognition is generously shared out and made relatable for the reader through the act of naming.

I want to end by foregrounding S–105 as it subsists through that other kind of glass box, the Yale catalogue raisonné. In this context, S–105 is a page-thin image printed on glossy paper that is cold white and that, as attested to by the copyright notes, ‘meets the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Committee on Production Guidelines for Book Longevity of the Council on Library Resources.’ If Hesse’s studiowork consumes its minimalist pastry case through an additive ‘cross-fire’, the formal logic of Fer’s Studiowork spells out the sublation of that other glass box.

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‘S-105’ (Eva Hesse, 1968) and the matter of interpreting the “not quite artwork”


Eva Hesse, S-105. Fibreglass, polyester resin, plastic. Courtesy University of California, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. Gift of Mrs Helen Charash, 1968.

This paper will risk interpreting a “not quite” artwork; that is, an artwork whose unclear status throws the work of interpretation into relief. Manufactured by Eva Hesse at her studio on the Bowery, S-105 (1968) is one of a series of “test pieces” that were posthumously consigned to the estate. In 2010, the test pieces were newly designated “Studiowork” by the art historian Briony Fer, who curated a successful travelling exhibition of the same name. Consequently, this “not quite” artwork found passage to the centre of what Robert Pincus-Witten termed the “industry of Eva Hesse [scholarship]”. S-105 is hemmed in by the conceptual act of naming and subject to readings of mimetic inscription: What if this thing is my model of thought? enquires Fer. Thinking with Fer about how S-105 speaks to us from beyond its muteness, I ask the following: What can we do with the excessive material lure that haunts the questions we ask of the “not quite” artwork? I want to trouble the critical transmission of affect, understood as an unavoidable interpretive recourse from a material thing whose lifeline is, patently, the institution of art history. To this end, I shall conduct a surface reading of S-105 as it is mediated via Yale University Press’ catalogue raisonné (2006). How does the formal intrusion of this medium and its value-form actually manipulate S-105? My reading is indebted to Eugenie Brinkema’s programme in The Forms of the Affects (2014). Finally, and in deference to the Late 60s’ positivist grounds of dematerialisation, my argument is informed by the critique of Gillian Rose: ‘Which concepts does the object have ‘by itself’? It has the reified concepts of non-dialectical sociologies and philosophies by means of which the non-reified concepts can be derived’ (1978).

Art History and the Parameters of Image Studies

This title points in several directions. By opting for the coordinating conjunction ‘and’ it is suggested that there is no correlation between art history and image studies. At the same time, these two figures are shown to be in some kind of dialogue by the inclusion of the qualifying attribute ‘parameters of’. From this one may infer that art history – positioned first and unqualified – is not open for discussion but that image studies, through its referral to a single attribute, is. The implication that art history will continue to remain a stable entity irrespective of the parameters of images studies – an inclusion that indicates the basis for discussion – is belied by their paired coordination. As the parameters of image studies fluctuate or expand, the equal weighting afforded by the coordinating conjunction will by necessity give way to a relationship of exile or annexation, allowing one to imagine such eventualities as Art History beyond the Parameters of Image Studies, or Art History within the Parameters of Image Studies. The amorphousness of image studies is brought to bear on the established rank and purview of art history, whereby the stability of art history is thrown into question by image studies, whose credentials are stabilised in turn. This reading plots a narrative in which art history is forever behind us and image studies before us, yet to arrive. Yet the privileging of ‘parameters’ suggests that, even if image studies were to stabilise its disciplinary protocols contra art history, the forfeit would be a constant state of watchfulness or paranoia as the policing of boundaries takes over from the receptivity of a burgeoning state. An alternative to this would be as follows: Neither art history nor image studies are stable to begin with, or at all. Here, ‘parameters of’ points to the irrevocable chaos of the cosmos; that is, to an equivocal set of shared substrata that cannot be neutralised and can only, from now, be accounted for. As Georges Didi-Huberman asks, what if one “allows paradox to flourish”?

Book Review

John Paul Ricco, The Decision Between Us: Art and Ethics in the Time of Scenes (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2014). A review essay, co-written with Matthew Ellison for parallax journal.


(iPhone)™ as Perpetual Keepsake

Dutch miniatures locketm

In this vacuum of sheets everything is so proximate that seeing things is a joke, but it takes two or more to fantasise with so instead I cup my iPhone.

Dutch eighteenth-century portrait miniatures contain a sheer density that fucks with other media as their sole purpose is to communicate gaze. Leo Bersani writes that “sexual desire initiates, indeed can be recognised by, an agitated fantasmatic activity in which original (but, from the start, unlocatable) objects of desire get lost in the images they generate.” Sometime else, the portrait miniature pretends the object of desire is locatable as it turns fantasmatic activity into a smaller, weaker object of desire that warms to the touch like the animal warmth of a hot water bottle. But there is something ocular in the crystalline sheen of its rounded surface that collapses the absent object of desire into the metallic realness of that object — a manneristic piece of the Western Tradition that only actually falsely promises.

Somewhere I am A.M. with the duvet doming overhead, and the metallic realness of this object is my real object of desire, because you can only be the images that you generate.

Gemäldegalerie, Berlin


There are some portals in Berlin that reach out into the city and coordinate historical time. The Soviet Monument in Treptower Park is one of them. Its grounded range outsteps your step, like those Stolpersteine, or commemorative “stumbling blocks”, that persistently interpolate conversation with the image of a damaged subject–a subject who still breathes a geographical map through Neukölln’s swampy trees. This makes living here, in Neukölln, feel strangely drained of futurity. It is a place where time is governed by buildings, not people.

The Gemäldegalerie is situated in the Kulturforum district of Potsdamer Platz, just north of Schöneberg and the Landwehr Canal. A major art institution in Berlin, the Gemäldegalerie handles the majority of the State Museums’ collection of traditional Western Art and can be compared to London’s National Gallery, or to The Met in New York. It is peopled by an empty collocation of gallery spaces that surround a centrally elongated “meditation” hall; and the power of State lies in these rooms.


Upon entering the first exquisitely hung gallery one is addressed by a quantity of medieval iconography that deflects empathy. The first room is wooden and white and presents a screen that transports me to the forbidden upstairs of a synagogue in Westminster.

An invigilator stands directly underneath the lintel of a portal, its right doorpost hidden behind the cream skirting board of an intervening room. A former agent of the state, the invigilator’s hair is fixed in a bouffant whose peroxide is akin to the surrounding sacred spoils of the Moscow Patriarchate. Through the window there is a construction site where a yellow crane lifts a blue crate into the sky.


Through the window, the fixed lens of a Düsseldorf teacher instructs the collection’s old commodity-form. A group of schoolchildren walk past and the host of Maria mit Kind shine through their containment.

Sergei Eisenstein’s October (1928)

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Sergei Eisenstein found himself in trouble with the Soviet government for an apparent “over-attention” to form in the making of October (1928). According to Stalin’s commissioning arm, the Russian people would not be able to understand the ordering of historical events surrounding the October Revolution of 1917 because Eisenstein’s attention to technique, angle and montage all interpolate too much form into the film’s narrative. Yet one can argue that Eisenstein’s punchy by-lines offer clear directives to the mass audience, who are confronted by the familiar story of the shoring up of Tsarist reserves, the wooing of the Mensheviks, the deposition of the liberal provisional government, and the climactic establishment of the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. Again, the figures of General Kerensky, Lenin and Trotsky (who was later excised altogether), are consistently identifiable against the film’s chaotic thrall of demonstrations, speeches, meetings and marches. Against this landscape of landmarks, therefore, Eisenstein’s formal work does not strictly detract from the film’s message and agenda. If anything this “making visible” of technology and the editing process enhances the production of energy that propels the train of historical events forward. What, then, is the problem of form in Eisenstein’s October?

There is one scene in particular, during the final section of the storming of the Winter Palace, which may have captured the Soviet government’s distaste. An unnamed Bolshevik revolutionary breaks open the door of the Princess’ bedroom, runs in to the centre of the chamber, and plunges the tip of his bayonet into an abundance of silken sheets. As he draws his bayonet vertically upwards, revealing the mass of down contained within, Eisenstein’s camera lingers on the revolutionary’s face as it turns in the direction of the Princess’ chest cabinet. The Russian people are invited to gaze upon a series of photographic portraits of Nicholas II, whose stateliness is softened and made familial by the private space of the bedroom.

The revolutionary’s ambiguous gaze is repeatedly broken and refashioned by Eisenstein’s camera, which switches to the ransacking of the Winter Palace’s lower quarters and wine cellar before returning, invigorated and charged. Still, the revolutionary is suspended in time, and the Russian people share in a precious display that is soon to be rendered obsolete. In one sense, this imminent obsolescence makes such a suspension of action desirable because the spectator really feels what it is like to participate in the levelling of value: the revolutionary’s reverie is instated as a moral position to be inhabited and overcome, and it is this recognition that makes such a scene permissible, even necessary, for a defence of Eisenstein’s realism.

However, and this is the crux of the matter as I see it, instead of witnessing the expropriation of the portraits of Nicholas II, the shot is taken over by an unnamed classical sculpture of a young girl that is suspended in a temporally unbounded space. This interval is installed within the gaze of the revolutionary alongside the mise-en-scène of devastation occurring in the other millennial rooms of the Winter Palace. Eisenstein’s camera then performs the connoisseurial movement of ekphrasis, tracking down from the veiled face to the exposed pubis.* Amidst the iconoclastic disarray of the governing action, this purely formalistic attention to the figure of a young girl transports the spectator to a space of contemplation that is, ironically, in the possession of one absconded class.

Did Eisenstein employ ekphrasis, a style of description tied to vision, in order to subvert the senses as well as the standing of the Tsarist elite, or has he redeemed them? Suffice to say, in criticising the excess of form in October, the Soviet government may have been momentarily piqued, by what was thought to have been put to rest.

* Ekphrasis here refers to the rhetorical description of a figure that begins from the head and moves progressively down to the ground. By employing this term, I want to point out how the camera’s movement, so out of keeping with the general ransacking, conjures the image of the connoisseur in his darkened viewing chamber: a subject who has been forcibly removed from the Winter Palace.



Walk down Minerva St. in Bethnal Green and you will detect the crescendo of a Church organ locked into the armature of a contemporary art gallery. Like an intervention stripped of its divinity, this streeted goddess of wisdom; sponsor of arts and craft, magic and medicine, will be in residence at Vilma Gold Gallery till 24th January 2015.

The Eleventh Hobby is the latest offering from Stephen G. Rhodes, a Berlin-based artist whose practice is hard to place. In fact, Rhodes’ practice feels more like a contusion of places that mocks any person’s desire for sound judgment. Typically, this artist mines cultural fields in search of stuff that is obviously wrong or historically misplaced, and feeds the resultant mess through a mediatic tunnel of green screens and slipshod wooden constructions. The end product is consistently thrilling and troubled – think Paul McCarthy strung to an insomniac’s clock – and this showing is certainly no exception to the contumely.

The Eleventh Hobby comprises a walk-in installation; two totemic floor sculptures; a series of wall-mounted collage works and, finally, a vertiginous loop that orchestrates your body like an in-store experience, drawing the host of discrete objects into one melodramatic play.

The exhibition’s title refers to Hobby Lobby, a chain of retail arts and crafts stores with headquarters located in Oklahoma City. Last summer, this family-run purveyor of leisure took offense to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010), which enshrines unconditional access to the morning-after pill in company law. Hobby Lobby sued federal government after the U.S. Supreme Court quashed their lawsuit, winning temporary exemption through a loophole in the Constitution. Meanwhile another loophole is exploited on the other side of town, as The Church of Satan prepares to mount a statue of Baphomet mit Kind…

On the occasion of The Eleventh Hobby, Stephen G. Rhodes explores the identity of all loopholes through a multifarious address to the “Holy Trinity” of state, church and commodity exchange. The holier-than-thou Hobby Lobby is imagined to be of the Devil’s party, in what looks like El Lissitsky’s Proun Room fed through the basement of Berghain, or Oklahoma chewed up by Berlin. In the centre of the gallery space there stands a semi- fabricated shop, with pegboard walls housing a stock of replica commodities; including tiny voodoo-like mannequins wrapped in plastic, inverted crucifixes, rainbow motifs and scrapbook juxtapositions of vicar strippers and a repro Obama. Amidst this Black Friday window-shopping carnage sits a dilapidated generator-powered mattress set to “auto- hump”—a fitting altarpiece. Two erotically displaced projectors throw footage of a Hobby Lobby store interior, spliced with soft televisual hooks.

Rhodes’ customer is invited to walk around this self-contained installation, and by so doing, to enter into orbit with a Dantean circle of 60s art historical offcuts. Two floor mirrors swim anamorphically across the cast concrete; a school of surveillance pictures remembers Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas with a nod to Rhodes’ détournement on this figure last year in Zurich; while the aforementioned projections jet through the pegboards’ circular holes, creating a filmic physiology in the vein of Stan Brakhage.

Stephen G. Rhodes’ The Eleventh Hobby recognises something seriously, insolubly wrong. It is funny in the way that American civil politics can be funny. But like the eternally humping mattress, the long night’s ease of laughter is quickly exhausted. Ultimately, this work is unremittingly realist because it tackles head-on the surreal logic of contemporary politics.

Book Review

Eugenie Brinkema, The Forms of the Affects (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014)