Nikita Gale creates a pressurized stage for anticipation at 52 Walker – ARTnews.com
Six aluminum bleachers scattered around the gallery of 52 Walker in New York City could have originally served as seats for a performance. First asleep, the lighting program engages: rays of light bathe the gallery in diffuse colors tracing its perimeter, illuminating the walls, floor and ceiling, seeking a subject on which to settle. But there was no proscenium, no center stage; many lamps were placed directly on the floor; the cables were deliberately disheveled and not concealed. Walking over a misplaced electrical cord, navigating a barricade-like bleacher flipped to the side, the audience performed this silent choreography as composer Tashi Wada’s soundscape shuttled between environmental sounds and rising voices. and descended over the course of the trail for more than two hours. .
Nikita Gale’s “End of Subject” exhibition expanded on the artist’s earlier artistic strategies of withdrawal, obfuscation, and withdrawal: in “Private Dancer,” Gale’s 2021 exhibition at the California African American Museum, the artist paid homage to Tina Turner with an installation that featured a central sculptural stack of theatrical trusses. Frequent Gale collaborator Josephine Wang programmed a set of interlocking spotlights as if to accompany Turner’s self-titled 1984 album, which provided the implicit but inaudible soundtrack to the exhibit. Uplifting the singer’s first solo production after her temporary retirement from the stage to escape the abusive grip of Ike Turner in the late ’70s (a drama featured in the 2021 documentary Tina), Gale spoke of the infrastructure that conditioned, pressured and subsumed the music icon, while providing a platform for performance and self-affirmation.
While Gale’s installations first set up expectations of live human presence and spectatorship, they eventually absented the figure, expanding the scope of the viewer’s attention to include those infrastructural supports rendered sculptural (theatrical equipment, seats) and environmental (light, sound). By dramatizing the spectator’s encounter with these objects to the detriment of any real “event”, the artist also brackets and turns our attention to ourselves, and the behaviors that these sets and objects often accompany: the performance or presentation aesthetics of self, identity, political and social participation.
Here, several of the crisp metal bleachers had been warped under pressure to the point where, excised from the stadium, they became metaphors for a particular form of social pressure. Rendering these spectator supports useless, Gale rejects the stage – or the arena, or the gallery – as an aesthetic performance space. At their most emphatic, the distorted bleachers could also have evoked the psychic disposition of a subject, like Turner, pushed almost to the breaking point. At the material level, the deformations fulfilled a function of proof that we could only partially grasp: they were the ruins of an event or an impact that we only experienced in the aftermath.
Six aluminum panels along the walls leaned on this external compression in homage to David Hammons’ “Body Print” series. Beginning in 1968, Hammons created a number of figurative works by coating her skin and hair in margarine or oil, pressing her body into a piece of paper, and then setting this impression with powdered pigments. Sending figuration and the claim of the gestural mark to grant unmediated access to the subject’s interiority, Hammons also lithographed patriotic and anti-black symbols (American flags, spades) to frame or augment his bodily trace, visualizing the racist stereotypes and mainstream bigotry that have historically disarticulated black male incarnation from national identity. Hammons, an artist who always challenged the imperative to participate in the art world, stopped producing this series in the late 1970s due to the almost immediate commercial success of the works. In Gale’s ‘Body Prints’ (2022), subtitled after various body parts, fluids and fumes (bone, piss, muscle, breath, brain, blood), the depressions and bumps on the surface – seemingly molded from body parts – come with expressively engraved words indicating family relationships (mother, father, sister), human anatomy and personality traits (kind, stupid, strong). Small LED projectors attached to each of these panels project angular projections extending onto the wall, as if hinting at a subject that goes beyond optical and linguistic constraints, beyond the limits of the word. , stereotype, image plane.
As in Hammons’ work, Gale’s prints reject the idea that subjectivity can be trapped in the surface of the panel, further compressing it through the generic register of language. Personal descriptors quickly become abstract, detached from the individuals to whom they might refer. In this area of the credits, the border between one subjectivity and another is unidentifiable, as it can be felt in a crowd. Gathered in an installation that seemed both to follow an impact and to anticipate a performance that did not arrive, we were left in limbo: a space that resisted interpretation, an exhibition whose subject (central figure and “theme” first) remained undetermined. The title of Gale’s exhibition could then have served as a provocation, a declaration that does not hold: there is no “end of subject” for a subject that perpetually escapes apprehension.