There is a small fire ablaze on the sidewalk of Orchard Street in the New York’s Lower East Side. A group of gallery-goers, friends, and passersby mingle in its warmth where a large pot is being boiled. People sip tea and/or whiskey, smoke cigarettes, eat fresh cucumbers, and nibble on pieces of pita bread. The title of Alicia Mersy’s Your Ability to Touch is Limitless solo show is displayed on the Larrie storefront window, a stack of orange Gatorade bottles filled with Middle Eastern torshi behind it.
The atmosphere of the exhibition opening outside is characterized by a sense of community and sharing—uncommon to an art crowd event—intermingled with the strong aroma of burning wood, while the white-walled art space takes a rather introspective approach. Wispy smoke trails rise from a 3D printed incense stick holder, inducing a meditative ambiance. Breathing deeper in and out, viewers relax into viewing Mersy’s vibrant colored photographs, sculptural installations, and videos at their own pace.
A series of photos titled ‘Teachers are Angels’ show the artist’s ability to capture aesthetic moments of colorful clarity and striking fashion. Three silver barber poles are each adorned with a portrait photo, partially serving its common purpose as beauty parlor signage, as well as elevated mementos of unconventional models of beauty. ‘Aisha (Barber Pole)’ draws the most attention with the subject’s bold style; she pairs a bright blue hijab with a long-sleeved black dress, gridded in blue with ‘MOSCHINO’ written throughout in pink. Wearing visibly Western designer brands in an effortlessly stylish and idiosyncratic manner, the people whom Mersy encounters in fleeting moments on the street provide a source of infinite inspiration for self-adornment and personal storytelling.
Focus consistently returns to the physical body and its repose. A bed frame and a bare memory foam mattress is covered in patterns evocative of waves in the center of the gallery. Embedded within the viscoelastic surface is a rigid monitor screen of a vast digital desert. Viewers are invited to navigate this virtual barren land with a game controller. At times, photo thumbnails and short video clips can be discovered hovering just above the terrain like small havens of lost memories.
Across from the bed is a hot pink portable massage chair with images of sea slugs formatted to resemble an endless scroll through Google Image Search. The seat has been altered so that when someone places their face on the headrest, their entire field of vision is immersed in a self-care video called ‘Hypnosis Excite’ and guided by an avatar. Aptly naming the works ‘Auric Oasis Lounge’ and ‘Hypnosis Chair’, Mersy uses this ergonomic furniture often associated with physical and mental relaxation to reveal spaces where viewers can become more mindful of oneself. The irony is in the undeniable vulnerability and unwillingness of the viewer to fully relax into these seemingly inviting objects of comfort at an open art gallery.
The Larrie backroom perhaps offers the most privacy, existing almost as a prayer room or, techno-sanctuary. The walls are covered in R-Tech rigid foam panels—a radiant barrier commonly used for thermal and acoustical insulation. The only source of light is a video projection and the multi-colored LED lights of a boombox. The silver, semi-reflective surface screens ethereal and obscure version of ‘Auric Protections’ feature four interview vignettes. Each person discusses topics relating to the relationship of social media and communal gathering, the expanded construction and projection of the self on the Internet, and the unaccounted history of exploitation in the development of technology. Though no personal details of the subjects themselves are mentioned, their shared feeling of doubt, frustration, and optimism from their first-hand experience of the digital world creates a sense of intimacy.
Beyond these unstaged portraits and Y2K aesthetic video installations pulsating with pops of bright orange, pink, and blue, there is an unassuming wealth of knowledge guiding the viewer through ideas of self-expression, self-awareness, and self-care. Mersy and her subjects-as-teachers prompt alternative ways of forming an intentional relationship with oneself and of nurturing the interdependent reality of our online and offline communities. As our lives become further intertwined and, at times, lost in the intangible domains of the Internet, Your Ability to Touch is a place of retreat. Its final gesture comes in affirmations printed on multi-colored paper, which Mersy calls “wings of encouragement”. Viewers can take them to their own spaces of comfort, along with the lingering smell of incense and burning wood.**