michael j. morris

wexner fall exhibitions 2011

[this is a brief post that I commented on the WexBlog’s post “Fall Exhibitions: From plants to planetary destruction.” after a conversation with dear friends joshua penrose and mara penrose, I am interested in exploring the potential for the WexBlog to function as more than a space for the Wexner to share information, but also for the Columbus community to engage in dialogue around/about/towards/from the work+programming that the Wexner provides. this was my first attempt.]

I am intensely interested in this cycle of exhibitions. I was impressed by the exhibits mounted this past spring, particularly the works by Pipilotti Rist, but the “Double Sexus” exhibit and the works by Nathalie Djurberg as well. All three shows for me functioned as significant artistic interventions in the representation and perception of sexuality, perversity, seduction, and the ecstatic–each in unique but productive ways. [As an aside, this was for me an extremely exciting function/position for the Wexner to be taking on, both in the art world, but most specifically within the cultural landscape of Columbus. Too often public institutions, even arts institutions, seem to avoid engaging with issues of sex and sexuality. Such human concerns seem to confer contamination in our culture. To have the Wexner display work that dealt with these issues so directly, and multivalently, was in itself an exciting proposition for the cultural landscape to which it contributes.] Rist’s “The Tender Room” in particular began to address what for me is a profound intersection between issues of sexuality and ecology, the body and the environment, in ways that blurred the distinctions between these tidy constructed binaries and initiated [visual, aural] conversations that made these areas of experience more permeable and pervasive, a plane of possibilities bleeding through imagery and space rather than diagrams situated at the poles of a single dimension. My own research and performance work is currently investigating the concept of “ecosexuality,” and I found Rist’s installation to not only lend itself to “ecosexual analysis,” but also to contribute its own perspectives/observations/affects, articulated within its own terms, to further expand how we might consider/recognize the intersection of sexuality and ecology.

pipilotti rist's "the tender room"


But this new cycle of exhibits promises to explore these (as well as other) concerns even more broadly and directly. Diana Thater’s “Peonies” beautifully problematizes the distinction between the organic and the digital, the cell and the pixel, and (if I might borrow from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari) the smooth and the striated. This piece brings me to a state of examining the inherent tensions within the organization of time, space, the history of visual representation, and even (possibly) the convention of biological taxonomies. I am left considering that which exceeds these organizing frameworks, that which flows over from one frame into another (where spatiality becomes temporality, where the digital becomes organic, etc.), and–perhaps most importantly–what exists in the gaps between what can be represented in this frameworks of convention and organization. Her sensual experiments in the clarity and speed of her footage, her employment of tropes of visual culture (such as the grid itself), and even her use of technology as a medium for exploring “nature” functions well as both a precursor and, in a sense, gate keeper for the work to arrive in the other galleries. Among other things, Thater’s work seems to ask me to reconsider–in its most general sense–what I think of as “the natural world,” as well as the romanticism with which it has been historically constructed.

diana thater "peonies"


I am eager to see the other three exhibits. Paula Hayes work with living organisms, as Christopher Bedford so articulately introduced above [see video in WexBlog post, link above], introduces the question of “care” into both the art work itself, but also by extension the art institution, and perhaps even the spectator. I am interested in the potential of this work to introduce new affective and affectionate possibilities into the relationship between the human and the other-than-human. I am interested in the tensions between “care” and “management,” “affection” and “ownership,” and how the care of which Bedford speaks navigates tendencies towards subjectivation and objectification. I am interested in how this work participates in our understanding and production of a world of subjects and objects, and possibly how such concerns might suggest the works’ occupation of a register of sexuality (which is itself a political minefield establishing and enacting a landscape of subjects/objects). Most of all, I’m interested in how this work might be ecology-forming, literally establishing systems of interdependency in/through/as the art works themselves (environmental ecologies, social ecologies, symbolic ecologies, economic ecologies, etc.).

work by paula hayes


Alexis Rockman’s work promises to introduce an element of fantastic speculation to the galleries, imagining complex utopic and distopic visions of “the natural world,” further problematizing this construction through both that which is depicted as well as the methods of depiction. As landscape paintings and renderings of “natural history” are historical practices rich in the romanticization of “nature,” I am interested in how Rockman’s work might reconfigure such constructions through his enactment of similar painterly techniques. The speculative quality of his representations seems to suggest the speculative quality of all reflections of the world in which we [might] live.

work by alexis rockman


Finally Elliott Hundley’s refiguring of “The Bacchae”–for me, easily the most mysterious of the exhibits to come–at the very least seems as if it will introduce further contributions to the contemplation of history, pleasure, and the ecstatic to our cultural landscape. Along with this work, I am over the moon about the fact that Anne Carson will be contributing to the catalogue of Hundley’s work. Carson is one of the most exquisite authors of our time, and to have her contributing to the context and dialogue around this work is an elevating proposition.

work by elliott hundley


Overall, I’m excited by the rich yet-to-be-seen potential of these exhibits, and I continue to commend the Wexner on their active engagement with the production of culture in and beyond Columbus.