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In the small, sky-lit upstairs gallery space at Rachel Uffner, the quiet artworks in Other Romances seem to whisper to each other and pass notes. Entering the gallery feels like walking into a conversation that has been both happening and slowly building over time. There is something both riotous and clean about Em Rooney’s curation, with the show’s composition simultaneously recalling the delicate strings of a Fred Sandback cat’s cradle and the CGI chaos of “Magic Eye” 3D posters that you have to stare and stare at until an image of a lion or shark pops out. Wandering the room amid windows that open up to the rooftop worlds of the Lower East Side, I wonder about the queer overtures, and the questions and conversations each work wants to have with the group.
The title of the show calls into being “other” erotic, romantic, reflective, and tactile relational possibilities: the ones not here, not known, not named. These romances are not the ones that orbit the Earth’s main squeeze, the sun, but instead gravitationally dance farther out like the four moons of Jupiter—Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto. The idealized feeling that gets codified as “romance” is made minor and multiplied. Why would we value just one relationship over all the other intimate variations that are possible? Michel Foucault in a 1981 interview in Gai Pied stated that the task of the homosexual was to “invent, from A to Z, a relationship that is still formless, which is friendship: that is to say, the sum of everything through which they can give each other pleasure.” For Foucault, homosexuality is always a becoming. It is a project without form. It is not prescriptive. The homosexual “mode of life” ties together “unforeseen lines of force” that do not culminate in institutional recognition. As the images of Baseera Khan’s sound-dampening blankets (Position 3, 2017) synaesthetically reflect the aerial photographs of Terry Evans (Smoky Hill Weapon Range Target 2, 1991), it becomes clear that the works Rooney invited over are threading together spaces in which intimacy might, if only momentarily, be experienced.
At the center of this social choreography sits Emma Hedditch’s deconstructed industrial textiles. In Claim A Hand, 2017, sock tops rest in tight rows on a cardboard base. Fraying and cut into small rectangles, the thick cotton blends curl-up at each end. Off Label, 2017, is a restructured and handsewn flannel shirt. Hedditch’s formal and collaborative practice produces a rupture in gendered use-value and circulation. The skin of the cloth is made even thinner and its color-worn pockets are exposed in the shirts “off label” unauthorized use.
Paintings by Marissa Bluestone and Xylor Jane are mesmerizing and complementary; the former are large, figurative color washes of rock climbs or dinner-party dancing, while the latter’s gridded and freckled works demand a different register of attention. Each of Bluestone’s paintings is a study from memory. Traversing the Gap, 2017, features fellow artist and friend RJ Messineo climbing a chick-yellow gemstone wall dotted with black nubs. In Dance Party, 2017, paint is thinly applied, creating a moving line of blurred faces. The figure at the center spins, wingspan wide, swimming in convivial warmth against the night sky that peeks into the window. Bluestone’s paintings feel like they are in motion, stopping time to hold a sensation.
Jane’s works may seem small in comparison, but the devotional details turn the paintings into vast landscapes. In her carefully dotted portraits I can see the sensibility of a queer San Francisco color scheme of yesteryear. At a distance, bold patterns transform soft metallic or pastel sunsets. Both 12/21, 2016, and Leap Second III, 2017, seem to be romances with numbers themselves: the first is Jane’s birthday as a palindrome, and the other is a reference to the extra seconds that are required to keep clock time in line with solar time.
The chaos and control of Bluestone and Jane reflect upon the shiny surface of the guarded and guarding work of Sable Elyse Smith. As if bending—like a mute scream, 2017, is a door-sized structure that reflects the viewer’s own obstructed image. The large, black acrylic surface leans against the wall with a steel-cot frame outlining the plastic’s edges. In the central tie of the cot, halfway up the wall, sits a rusted child-sized metal folding chair, facing outward. Much of Smith’s interdisciplinary work—including her current exhibition, Ordinary Violence, at the Queens Museum—reflects on the way incarceration effects family and loved ones. Her work reminds me that affection, cohabitation, care, and conversation are all, also, institutionally mediated scenes that often constrict the force of our desires. Other Romances is given over to the ritual reproduction of the structures and spaces that hold and open bodies to each other. The pieces seem to demand new shapes and pleasures, even while keeping one eye trained on the structures that confine and enable the old ones.
Other Romances is on view at Rachel Uffner gallery in New York City until October 29.