Jennifer Rubell – Not Alone at Stephen Friedman Gallery
Even with the growing democratisation of art and art-making, it is still strange to find exhibitions that challenge the boundaries between spectator and artist, demystifying the standard museum and gallery experience. Jennifer Rubell’s newest exhibition achieves this with a very deep and moving reflection.
Featuring the works created throughout the first three years of her life as a mother, the American artist explores themes of origin, subjectivity and otherness. Eight subtly political and finely integrated pieces engage all the senses through interactive sculpture, food performance, painting and film. The show comments on the connections among humans, and between humans and non-humans, inspiring care and fondness for animals and inanimate objects.
Glass is a fragile crystal baby that is handed out to fondle upon arrival at the exhibition, positioning the spectator in a vulnerable place while delivering a responsibility for the art object. This weirdly exhilarating experience also brings violence, repression and fear into play. The bodily tension that results from this moment is resolved by the next piece – Them – where one must break the shell of a hard-boiled egg, season it, and eat it. Two nuns, a drunkard and a bottle, a rabbit and a hunter, and a squirrel and a walnut are some of the many entertaining figures of salt-and-pepper shakers, that depict stereotypical pairings as different forms of companionship and dependency.
The last piece of the show, Posing, consummates the connection with the artist and her conceptual flirtations. It invites the spectator to disrobe and stand close to a film screen showing the artist naked on top of a horse. It is a modelling act for the paintings that make up the previous set of works in the exhibition. In a Las Meninas kind of composition, one is immersed in an intersubjective experience that echoes notions of origin and creation. What appears at first to be a democratisation of the art object ends as a complete liberation of creative authorship achieved by the reciprocating gazes between the spectator and the artist on screen.
Not Alone is a reflection on the creative act, as art-making and as motherhood, and an inspection of the never-ending genesis of spectatorship experiences. Provocative, meticulously crafted and well-rounded, it is an exhibition that will be seized by ardent contemporary art lovers, and more than a few sceptical bystanders.
Photos: Aleksandra Rozanska
Jennifer Rubell: Not Alone is at Stephen Friedman Gallery from 4th September until 2nd October 2015, for further information visit here.