Whether monumental or sacramental, sculpture is a mode of public speech. It requires not only the act of communication but also the enunciation of an assembly. There are multiple registers where speech can act as an escape hatch from the violence and silence of flesh, where these things can be disembodied. PUBIC SPACE, a collaboration and exhibition of new sculptures by poet Ariana Reines and sculptor Oscar Tuazon at London’s Modern Art —which ran from February 25 to April 9, 2016 —takes as its starting point a man in Reines’ poem ‘Coeur de Lion’ (2007), who is writing a memoir titled ‘Mein Cock’.
Inspired by the Ancient Greek boundary markers called herms and consisting of a carved head on a pillar, often with an erect phallus, PUBIC SPACE’s sculptures are made up of wooden sleepers, concrete, steel, wax and plaster. They stand erect, desiring bodies, lifting their skirts to the world, while the action occurs at their edges. They refuse frontality, skim the corners, creating a series of hinges, opened or closed, that provide space for movement. Poetry and sex are both languages of holes: peepholes and glory holes. They provide lacunae through which what is wordless can become seen. Circulating this exhibition, it becomes evident that the orifices cut into these beams are aligned perfectly for an eye or a cock.
The first space you enter contains works ‘MA’ and ‘PA’. They stand shoulder to shoulder, both dripping in their own time and into their own form. ‘MA’, in what is halfway through the show’s run, is a stalactite lacework of candle wax relit daily by the gallery. There is a feeling in these works of something being purged, of something reaching towards the gut and the hot wet dark of the world. Wetness is central to PUBIC SPACE, a secret wetness which feels like it could and does make the works decay and disintegrate over its course. On the night of the opening the concrete is still darker in the centre where the wetness hasn’t yet set. A few weeks later, a murky mix of soap scum and liquid candle wax collects in the buckets of the daddiest two, ‘PA’ and ‘OLD SPICE.’
In the second room, the subsequent works spread out a bit and loosen. What I didn’t notice during my first visit is the music, perhaps muted by the glimmer of private view chat. Alone in the gallery now, the work is eerie and the music imparts another layer of melancholy on a room full of stiff dicks. The show is full of sneaky jokes: a little tail-like twig emerges from the back of the spinal wooden beam in ‘OLD SPICE’, and a precariously balanced bucket perched on top feels slapstick, silently winking. ‘THE LESBIATOR’ is a heavy pillar split in two, retaining its uprightness by way of a heavy chain and clutching a wedge of cloudy white crystal between its legs. ‘THE HOUSE HUSBAND’ contains a guttering corner where a candle is embedded in the edge of the concrete, disappearing gradually. There’s something leaky and ancient about these works, like vessels unable to retain their liquid despite their solidity.
In a collaboration between a male sculptor and a female poet there arises the question of weight, of pulling weight, and of a balance of power necessarily weighted asymmetrically. It is impossible, comparing this show with the artists’ past work, to tease out two threads of singular authorship.
The poems in PUBIC SPACE arise in different forms, often visible but unreadable, buried in concrete or crushed under a heavy beam. The words “Harry Houdini” are obscured, half-smeared in grey paint. Also “in Flint”. Grimy water collects below in a bucket and just visible on the face of the pillar are the words: “very/ very very very very very very”, and then, scrawled loopily below: “quietly”.
The pages scattered on the façades and stuffed into the pillars might exist elsewhere gathered in a fat book, spiral-bound and flimsy. The partial obscuring of the fragments here invoke certain bureaucracy nightmares: paperwork, death, institutional punishment. The text is held out of reach by virtue of being separated, unreadable in its entirety. The time of the poem is set aside when it’s unceremoniously shoved, spine out, into concrete, or balanced under a tin bucket, or wheat-pasted like band posters on the dripping columns of the city.**
Ariana Reines + Oscar Tuazon’s PUBIC SPACE was on at London’s Modern Art, running February 25 to April 9, 2016.
Header image: Ariana Reines + Oscar Tuazon, PUBIC SPACE (2016). Exhibition view. Courtesy Stuart Shave/Modern Art, London.