OUT NOW ISSUE #48

The body is a bit weird. It feels strange to be in, sometimes. It has flailing limbs, unusual smells, and it sprouts hair from its darkest recesses. It’s an outer shell that has so much influence over how our lives play out and yet doesn’t necessarily reflect how we think about ourselves or feel within our own skin.

We normalise all this stuff, of course – it wouldn’t do to be strolling around inspecting ourselves constantly – but this general sense of unease and wonder about the figure that carries us about and does our bidding is excellently observed by this gang of works that depict floating arms, disembodied eyeballs, and things which look like hands but may well in fact not be hands. I found these images last week whilst researching for LISTE, so all the artists are represented by galleries exhibiting at the fair in Basel next week (look out especially for Cornelia Baltes, who’ll have a solo booth with London’s Limoncello).

Michael Linares’ sort-of-creepy-sort-of-cute work Voyeur Painting (2015) exemplifies the tone of these works: the painting has two very humanlike plaster eyes that stare out of a cloud of white paint like they belong to a long-entombed prisoner. I can’t help thinking of the phrase ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’ – usually used romantically – except this soul is lost in darkness, perplexed by its very existence. Linares’ work often uses comedy to explore how we look at art, and Voyeur Painting seems to be a parodic mirror of our slightly desperate human selves as we look for meaning in pigment on canvas.

Stefano Calligaro’s I,I (2015) depicts a semi-abstract floating hand delicately clutching the last few centimetres of a cigarette, the deep mustard canvas reminiscent of nicotine stains. Like Linares’ eyes, Calligaro’s hand isn’t connected to an arm, nor any other part of a body, so the image acts more to categorise a gesture rather than to depict the hand of a specific person. After all, who could the person be? Where is the mouth that tokes on the cigarette? Cornelia Baltes’ Sunday Smile (2015) also uses the hand as a shape or a gesture. In this work, two conjoined arms wave out into the darkness on one side and into the light on the other.

Considering the nagging insistence of Dualism (the belief that we are two different kinds of entity: body and mind) is useful when looking at these works. Though there exist very detailed scientific explanations as to why our arm rises in the air when we wish it to rise into the air (and even more detailed explanations as to why it may rise when we do not wish it to), these are not readily available to us as we go about our everyday life, picking things up, tapping at a computer keyboard, or stumbling up the stairs before bed.

Works like these imply that our conception of ourselves still invokes the idea behind Dualism: there’s not yet a simplified version of what we are. The body still feels alien sometimes, even if the body we’re looking at is our own.

Voyeur Panting (series) 2015. Acrylic and plaster eyes on canvas. 18 x 14 inches. (45.72 x 35.56 cm). Image courtesy the artist and Galeriá Augustina Ferreyra
Tintoretto, 2016. Industrial marker on vinyl. 150 x 130 cm. Unique Edition. Image courtesy the artist and Jeanine Holland, Amsterdam
Stefano Calligaro, I,I, 2015, Acrylic on Canvas, 40 × 40 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Frutta
Cornelia Baltes, ‘Sunday Smile’, 2015, Acrylic on Canvas, Wood Frame, 160 x 120cm. Courtesy the Artist and Limoncello.
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