The body as temple both sacred & profane in Valentina Vaccarella’s Show World Order & its poetic exploration of the abject

, 27 January 2021

The Roman architect and military engineer Vitruvius famously propagated the idea that the classical Greek temple was built in proportions analogous to those of the human body. God’s greatest human creation was a model conception of symmetry and harmony. The number 10 was naturally perfect as it comprised the fingers of two hands. Six was the symmetrically divisible number of feet in the height of what was thought to be a ‘well-composed’ body. Vitruvius’ De architectura treatise had a profound impact on Renaissance thought when it was published in its first print edition in 1486—nowhere is this fact clearer than in the renowned ‘Vitruvian Man’ illustration of Da Vinci.

Valentina Vaccarella, ‘Barbie Sins LC4 Charlotte Perriand’ (2020). Install view. Courtesy Other Subjects, New York.

Fast forward half a millennium and the inspiration of these ideals is still present in the studio of Le Corbusier, where designer Charlotte Perriand’s 1928 LC-4 Chaise Lounge resides. Dubbed the ‘relaxing machine’— the subtle wave of its shape mimics the contours of the human body, inviting natural repose. Owing to this enticing quality and its high-end symbolic status, the chair shows up in a number of pornographic movies. One in particular features a gang bang scene where Barbie Sins is violated in a number of ways—piss, semen and spit penetrating the erotic model’s orifices. The LC-4 becomes the perfect support for her debasement, the chaise turned into an elegant platform of aggressive worship and defilement.

The repeated use of this artefact is something that caught the attention of Brooklyn-based artist Valentina Vaccarella, whose Show World Order solo exhibition at New York’s Other Subjects is running December 11 to January 31. In it, a sculpture titled after an inventory of its references—‘Barbie Sins LC4 Charlotte Perriand’—recreates the aforementioned act depicted in aestheticized rumination. Vaccarella’s interpretation has body and support merging as one. The form of Womanhood represented solely as thighs and upturned rear is doubled and mirrored into itself like a reflective gargoyle. By giving form only to a person’s sex and its natural support, the body is instrumentalized into one end, sinking its missing torso into the chaise. The absent upper body is spectrally supported by the natural contour of the seat. This work forms the centerpiece of a show that considers the human, and particularly female, body as Protean tool—for beauty, commerce, elevation and dissolution. 

Valentina Vaccarella, Show World Order (2020-21). Installation view. Courtesy Other Subjects, New York.

The second largest piece in the show, ‘Gober’s essence of true romance’ also uses a plaster cast of the feminine midsection, cut off at the legs and pushed against two gallery walls. A sleek, high-end baseball bat made of hard gloss maple wood sprouts from the sculpture’s backside on the floor, like the stamen of a flower. The influences here come from similarly ‘high’ and ‘low’ cultural sources as ‘Barbie Sins LC4 Charlotte Perriand’, while its position in the corner and at the viewer’s feet recalls Robert Gober’s disembodied limb sculptures of the early 90s. The wooden bat entering the figure’s rear quotes a scene from an infamous pornographic Belladonna film, No Limits. Crafted from a hand-made mold with subtle imperfections, ‘Gober’s essence of true romance’ produces an air of intimacy, its loving fetishization of body also recalling Hans Bellmer’s Surrealist sculpture, ‘La Poupée’. While the work’s depiction of anal penetration with a culturally masculine, utilitarian object appears outrageous, the artist’s interpretation provides a feeling of calm contemplation. A snapshot moment of prodigious physicality is given placid consideration; the archetypal female form is presented as a vessel capable of absorbing and co-opting a tool of aggression in an act of circlusion.

Valentina Vaccarella, ‘Funny Money’ (2020). Install view. Courtesy Other Subjects, New York.

A couple of two-dimensional works and a small totem constructed from found objects rounds out Show World Order, providing context to the ambiguity of the sculptures. In ‘Funny Money’, a strip club currency slip is reproduced into an all-encompassing, recurring pattern, like a ream of bank notes fresh out of the Federal Reserve. These Sapphire Dollars are colored a sultry purple, the faces repeated are those of a femme fatale rather than a dead president. ‘Private Redemption’ shows a collection of receipts from a working stripper, bluntly framing the commercial aspect of the business and devoid of any sex appeal. The house fees listed on each bill enumerate the number of services a dancer’s earnings are charged. Lastly, an untitled collection of personal ephemera form a small untitled shrine—a decrepit book titled Sexual Obsessions of Saints and Mystics lies atop a vintage car radio, accompanied by antiquated relics of bygone sex trades. These ancillary pieces provide clues as to how to read their more ambitious counterparts, glimpsing moments of poetry and spirituality in activities commonly relegated to terrestrial confines of the human experience: the porn set, the strip club, the private champagne room. 

Show World Center was the last peep show to close in New York’s Times Square in 2018, and in its 70s heyday was the largest of its kind. Its Show World Order exhibition counterpart suggests that in a contemporary era of endemic voyeurism, realizing personal transformation can be challenging amongst the sea of eyes surrounding us. Vacarella’s poetic exploration of the abject reminds us one can still find sacred moments at the altar of the human body, no matter how defiled.**

Valentina Vaccarella’s Show World Order solo exhibition is on at New York’s Other Subjects, running December 11 to January 31, 2021.