Zoe Barcza

Zoe Barcza @ Ghebaly Gallery reviewed

5 December 2016

The paintings that make up Zoe Barcza’s most recent solo show, Dr. Awkward at Ghebaly Gallery, exist in an imagined narrative. Together, the works both compartmentalize and examine the human form, while also tapping into a deeper psychological space. It evokes a feeling without elaborating on what that actual feeling is.  

Upon first viewing the exhibition, running November 12 to December 23, I felt a little hopeless. There’s something truly special about seeing a show unlike you’ve ever seen before, but that also proves to be a bit daunting, especially when tasked to write about it. Sol Lewitt’s ‘Paragraphs on Conceptual Art’ which was first published in a 1967 issue of Art Forum often provides a level of clarity whenever I feel lost.  In it he explains the existence of not only conceptual art, but also perceptual art. Barcza’s work exists somewhere between them.

The former relies less on aesthetic meaning and more on intent, while the latter is made obvious through a primary reaction to the art that you’re looking at, a reflex one might experience in its presence. The press release, written by artist Alfred Boman, leaves much of the show’s meaning up for interpretation and avoids particulars. The piece reads more as a stream of conscious writing exercise, jumping from various questions about politics, society, life and beyond, and only actually referencing the artist and her work in a few sentences. Aside from the available descriptions offered by Boman, the most effective way to ingest the show was to jump right in.

Zoe Barcza, 'Dr Awkward' (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles.
Zoe Barcza, ‘Dr Awkward’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles.

The first piece, ‘Evade Me Dave’ (2016) hangs on a wall to the immediate right upon entering the one-room exhibition. A curious start, it is the only painting with text on it. In crudely-stenciled letters, the titular, capitalized words cut into the ivory-white background of the canvas. Above the writing there’s the profile of a menacing half-masked face, with a glaring expression. Upon following the gaze of its eyes, we’re met on the adjacent wall by another face, staring back with similar intensity. The swath of gallery wall separating these pieces, in conjunction with the trompe l’oeil checkered border around the face peering out from the center, ‘Dr. Awkward’ (2016) throws the space off kilter in an unnerving manner.

On the opposing two walls we encounter a series of three triptychs. Each creates the illusion of a body reclined in three parts; a head, a maze and the feet. ‘So Ida, Adios’ (2016) is the only apparently female body and the only piece whose body parts are sketched in blue. The maze linking the head and feet of the composition is also the only one shown with a line wandering its way from one seemingly random beginning to an equally trivial end. The following two ‘bodies’ are both men’s — ‘Bob, Level Bob’ (2016) and ‘Poor Dan is in a Droop’ (2016) — both sketched in red, and each of their respective mazes appear blank besides the complex net of angles and dead ends.

Zoe Barcza, 'Dr Awkward' (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles.
Zoe Barcza, ‘Dr Awkward’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Ghebaly Gallery, Los Angeles.

Isolated and compartmentalized on separate canvases (each with the same palindrome title, intrinsically joining them as a set), the series is reminiscent of an exquisite corpse. Although the feet and head paintings stylistically go together, drawn in the same monochrome, sketched-outline style, the maze in between each set becoming the most cryptic and intriguing part of these anatomies.

Wholly to our benefit, the press release avoids telling you exactly what the show is about, a vague indication that we, the viewers, are on our own: “what is it that you are looking for? Are you some kind of detective??” There is comfort in drawing seemingly obvious conclusions between the reversible titles (referencing the cyclical nature of life), while the mazes hint at complexity. The physical and philosophical tangling of human insides and the clinical ‘vibe’ of DR AWKWARD presents a layer of perceived information that shines through. Here, the power of experience, of wandering through the exhibition space is vital to its comprehension and success.**

Zoe Barcza’s ‘Dr. Awkward’ is on at Los Angeles’ Ghebaly Gallery, running from November 12 to December 23, 2016.

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Sour Grapes @ Sorbus Gallery, Sep 23 – Oct 9

20 September 2016

The Sour Grapes group exhibition is onat Helsinki’s Sorbus gallery, opening September 9 and running to October 10.

The show spans a variety of media, from sculpture to painting, textile, as well as poetry. Featured artists include Jan Anderzén, who produces experimental music and images, and poet and dance artist Sini Silveri from Tampere; Stockholm-based Zoe Barcza &mdashartist and founding member of London’s Auto Italia; London-based artist Leslie Kulesh; Lahti-based Mikko Luostarinen who works in drawing and comics; and Helsinki-based sculptor Hermanni Saarinen.

Sorbus is a non-profit artist-run space running since 2013 and host to a diverse programme of events and exhibitions by artists like Jaakko Pallasvuo, Anna Zett and Kimmo Modig, as well as group shows like Jupiter Woods’ Longshore Drift in May.

Visit the Sorbus webpage for more details.**

Leslie Kulesh, 'World Interiors' (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Savoy Centre for Glasgow International.
Leslie Kulesh, ‘World Interiors’ (2016). Installation view. Courtesy the artist + Savoy Centre for Glasgow International.

Header image: Leslie Kulesh ‘Anthropo-scenester’ (2016). Detail. Courtey the artist.

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Market Art Fair 2016, Apr 22 – 24

21 April 2016

Market Art Fair 2016 is on at Stockholm’s Gallerian, running April 22 to 24.

The Nordic event, founded in 2006 and curated by Stephanie Hessler, has temporarily moved from its usual Liljevalchs konsthall to the rooftop of the Swedish capital’s first shopping mall, happening during Stockholm Art Week, April 19 to 24.

Exhibitors from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland include Loyal Gallery with work by Zoe Barcza, Helsinki Contemporary presenting Ville Andersson, and Belenius/Nordenhake showing Evan Roth‘s Kites & Websites.

The events programme involves talks with Chicago-based curator Omar Kholeif and Berlin-based artist Ilja Karilampi, live DJ sets from the likes of producer Katja Lindeberg and Market Projects by Sanna Marander and Niklas Tafra and Brad Troemel.

At the same time, Stockholm Art Week sees presentations across the city, including artists and collections from Moderna MuseetTensta Konsthall and Wetterling Gallery, as well as the Absolut Art exhibition curated by Francesca Gavin, Nadim Samman and Samantha Culp among others. There is also  a panel discussion ‘Art and the www’ including Jonas Lund and a workshop and discussion by Jaakko Pallasvuo at Index.

See the Market Art Fair and Stockholm Art Week websites for more details.**

Zoe Barcza, 'Shred IV' (2014). Install view. Courtesy New Scenario.
Zoe Barcza, ‘Shred IV’ (2014). Install view. Courtesy New Scenario.
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Brian Kokoska + Loyal Magazine launch @ Loyal, Nov 27 – Dec 19

27 November 2015

Brian Kokoska‘s solo exhibition Hush Hook is on at at Stockholm’s Loyal Gallery, opening November 27 and running to December 19.

There’s little information on this particular exhibition, except that a previous exhibition by Kokoska at Paris’ Galerie Valentin, titled Poison IV, presented a kind of “total environment” within a reconstruction of a “three-dimensional image”. 

Alongside the exhibition will be the launch of Loyal Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 1, edited by Kristian Bengtsson, Amy Giunta and Martin Lilja, and featuring contributions by Zoe Barcza, Sascha Braunig, Nick DeMarco, James Ferraro, Spencer Longo, Sandra Vaka Olsen, Britta Thie, Brad Troemel, Keith Varadi, Quintessa Matranga and many more.

See the Loyal Gallery website for (limited) details.**

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Basic Instinct @ Seventeen Gallery reviewed

22 September 2015

The press release for Basic Instinct, running at London’s Seventeen Gallery from September 4 to October 2, doesn’t give much away. It’s a juxtaposition of two quotes, extracted from two quite different contexts. The first is from Eros The Bittersweet by Anne Carson, a passage which interrogates the concept of eros, its basis in the psyche of an infant, and the identification of desire as implicitly involved in lack. The second is the short section of dialogue from arguably the most famous scene in the film Basic Instinct (1992) in which Sharon Stone’s character Catherine Tramell uncrosses her legs and seductively quips, “I have a degree in psychology”.

The choice of these two quotes introduces us to the historically difficult to categorise concept of eros. On one hand, it points towards a set of concerns in philosophy and psychiatry which, as seems to be customary in academia, use the Greek god Eros as exemplar from which to build a theoretical position on love and desire. On the other hand eros is often used as shorthand for a sort-of classy sexual instinct. Indeed these two divergent approaches to eros can be found in Basic Instinct the exhibition, mainly intersecting with the tactility of materials as a form of eroticism. Curator Attilia Fattori Franchini has brought together ten artists, each of whose works contain some inclination towards the sensual.


Basic Instinct (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.
Basic Instinct (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

Beatrice Marchi‘s framed pencil drawings point perhaps most directly to the concept of eros as the contemporary erotic a purely sexual force while attempting to undermine its seriousness. In ‘Oh, Summer!’ (2015) a spread-eagle woman lies on the floor, an electric fan blowing aside her pubic hair. In diptych ‘Signorina Culinski cresce’ (2015), one panel depicts a woman bending over in front of a mirror looking at her own ass. In the other she is drawing eyes onto her buttocks to reflect a crude face back.

The time-based works included seem to double the imagery of contemporary advertising techniques. Jala Wahid‘s single-channel video ‘I am a charm’ (2015) feels somewhat like an extended perfume advert, matching seductive high-resolution shots of peeled citrus fruit segments with similarly poetic text. Reija Meriläinen‘s ‘Stabbing’ (2014), depicts the penetration and probing of what seems to be a block of gelatin with instruments including a metal pipe and a knife, conducted on a pastel-coloured set and shot in slow motion. These two works approach the hyper-sensual –too clean to feel perverse. On the spectrum of the erotic, they are sex with a Real Doll.

Megan Rooney‘s ‘Doggy breath, finger deaf, mute, winking. A wink she could only do with the right eye’ (2015) is a pale, fleshy, and almost ten-meter long mural. It’s frantic while retaining its balance –gauged abstract marks, smoothly applied layers of paint, and pseudo-childlike scrawls play both off and with each other. At the opposite end of the painting spectrum, Zoe Barcza‘s deeply considered grids look ripped away from the cotton by even more considered trompe l’oeil techniques.

Zoe Barcza, 'Clyff II' (2015). Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.
Zoe Barcza, ‘Clyff II’ (2015). Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

“Sex Sells”, as advertising executives know well. And while on one hand empowerment is meant to arise from claiming autonomy over our own deeply-held erotic inclinations, this power is simultaneously withdrawn from us as these desires are sublimated into advertising campaigns, designed to turn the production of eros into a marketing technique. In Basic Instinct, Franchini approaches this reality with varying degrees of critical distance. She places emphasis on the tactility of making or observing artwork as a sensual act, and one which is necessary to highlight the importance of art in turning away from the often banal mainstream idea of what can be considered erotic. Although some works in Basic Instinct feel like they are straining to prove their sincerity, those works which shine do so effortlessly and with confidence. Our basic instincts are obfuscated by the pallid eroticism of advertising culture. Perhaps in recognising this, and trying to articulate our own grammar, we can begin to engage in honest, maybe even radical, sensual encounters with the world. **

The Basic Instinct group exhibition is on at London’s Seventeen gallery, running September 4 to October 2, 2015.

Header: Jala Wahid, ‘I am a charm’ (2015). Video. Install view. Courtesy Seventeen, London.

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