Dani and Sheilah ReStack “Cuts in the Day,” Forrest Bess “Out of the Blue” at Camden Art Centre, London

This exhibition was selected as part of London Oomph, a roundup of the best shows in town during October 2022.

Cuts in the Day

Dani and Sheilah ReStack’s work spans video, drawing and photography. Individually and collectively, they push against the constraints of the domestic to yield transformation: employing materials ranging from charcoal, felt, fur and thread, to angle iron, concrete and wood, they create friction and precarity to construct new hierarchies of sense and order.

Cuts in the Day features a new commission which responds to the exhibition of work by Forrest Bess showing concurrently at Camden Art Centre. Drawing on Forrest Bess’ search for mental and physical transcendence through both painting and reconfigured corporeality, the ReStacks embarked across Ohio on a months-long quest for water, in response to Bess’ life in Chinquapin, on the Matagorda Bay of Texas. The ReStack’s journey culminated in their own form of transformation, which will be on view in the exhibition as a video projection-installation titled Blood and Water for FCB.

Other works featured in the exhibition include a new recording of Shameless Light, a performance of love letters by womxn identified queers, originally developed in 2016 after the US election; and a presentation of their acclaimed video trilogy: Feral Domestic, which includes the films Strangely Ordinary This Devotion (2017), Come Coyote (2018) and Future From Inside (2021).

The films in Feral Domestic blur the line between the banal, the sublime and fantasy to yield new possibilities for daily living. Shot in arid, dry heather amongst the burnt orange boulders of Utah and the parking lot of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty; glaciers in Newfoundland and the alleyway of their Ohio home; the sites of the films become characters in the ReStack’s environmental fantasy, set against hegemonic culture that dominates almost every aspect of public and private life. The video works remind us that in our collective convention of sex as strictly private, family as heteronormative, motherhood as beautific and artmaking as singular, we are complicit in and perpetuate mythologies of heteropatriarchal white supremacy. Taken as a whole, the works are their own offering towards new conceptions of radical vulnerability as a strategy of shaking the patriarchy and its traditional narratives.

Cuts in the Day also includes drawings by Dani, and photographs and sculptural works by Sheilah. In the drawings, Dani makes marks that express her commitment to Sheilah and the experience of loving their daughters. For Sheilah, her photographic works are a way to make new time and image out of the multivalent experiences of the domestic space and negotiation of identities. In each case the solo works speak to the desire for connection, relation, autonomy, and pleasure as it is found within the mess of daily life. Cuts in the Day is an intimacy emergent: a love-story that celebrates what it means to be a queer family in contemporary society.

Out of the Blue

Bess was an American artist, visionary and fisherman who lived on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Through his modestly scaled and highly personal paintings he developed an enigmatic painterly language, informed by visions that appeared to him on the threshold between wakefulness and sleep. The signs and symbols that populate his pictures were drawn from an exploration of his own unconscious, but he was also deeply influenced by various cultural, spiritual and mythological systems of thought, including aboriginal cosmology, medieval alchemy, eastern philosophy and Jungian psychoanalysis, as well as his own experience as a gay man living and working in rural Texas. The extraordinary body of work he created reveals a practice that was motivated by a restless and irrepressible principle of revelation, alongside a sustained investigation into often occluded systems of transcendental and collective wisdom and knowledge.

Drawing together rarely seen paintings from public and private collections across the world, the exhibition will present more than 40 works, many of which were hand-framed by the artist in driftwood. It will focus on Bess’s visionary paintings from the late 1940s through to the early 1970s, with a particular emphasis on the lexicon of abstract forms and symbols that speak to his unique understanding of the universe: physically, spiritually and psychologically. These are presented alongside extensive archival material relating to Bess’s wide-ranging research, including material from his “Thesis,” an ongoing research project around the conjunction of male and female energies and anatomies that preoccupied him for much of his life. Throughout his work, Bess explored questions of gender and sexuality that were driven by his personal feelings and lived experience, as well as an unshakeable belief in their wider significance to humanity. This exhibition will provide an opportunity for his paintings to be seen by contemporary audiences, as well as presenting his research and ideas in the context of more recent non-western, feminist, queer and neuro-diverse thinking and theory.

Bess is often misunderstood as an “outsider” artist, as he lived in relative isolation and his radical beliefs and ideas alienated him from the mainstream of contemporary art and society. However, his work was presented in a series of exhibitions during his lifetime at Betty Parsons Gallery, New York, (Parsons was one of the most influential dealers at the time, who also represented Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman and Robert Rauschenberg) and he enjoyed a close and lasting relationship with the art historian and academic Meyer Schapiro. Despite this, he remained largely misunderstood by his peers and public, becoming increasingly isolated in later life due to his insistent focus on what we would now consider esoteric, non-normative and/or “queer” systems of thought and knowledge, as well as his insistence on using his own body as a site of experimentation and praxis, culminating in him undergoing various surgeries in an attempt to achieve a state of “pseudo-hermaphrodism.”

at Camden Art Centre, London
until January 15, 2023

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