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Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles, USA
November 4, 2017 – December 1, 2017
Hunter Shaw Fine Art presents Corpus Alienum, an exhibition by Hayden Dunham, Don Edler, and Amanda Vincelli. Examining power dynamics within the Corporation/consumer relationship, this exhibition explores the mutable nature of the body, presenting it as a site of both transformation and control. Probing the topics of agency, biopower, and consent, Corpus Alienum investigates the relationship between corporate personhood and biological personhood in the contemporary consumer landscape.
In 1886, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations were to be considered ‘persons’ under the 14th Amendment, written shortly after the Civil War supposedly to guarantee full citizenship and equal protection under law to former slaves. Henceforth, corporations would also enjoy the same rights and protections as individuals. This is commonly referred to as ‘corporate personhood.’ Problematically, it was left unclear who is ethically accountable when corporations break the law, act sociopathically, or violate the rights of other citizens. Who is responsible when an immaterial entity such as a corporation terrorizes, exploits, or inflicts harm on a biological entity? Who is accountable when, for example, a corporation knowingly uses carcinogenic ingredients in its products?
This line of inquiry parallels the conceptual framework of Hayden Dunham’s installations and sculpture. Dunham translates the formal attributes of ecological disaster and industrial byproduct into sculptural gesture: her materials spill, pool, seep, congeal, evaporate, infiltrate, contaminate. As with carcinogenic industrial byproducts, the locus of interaction with the consumer is often on the chemical or molecular level. Dunham frequently creates and utilizes airborne materials that are imperceptibly absorbed and incorporated into the viewer’s body, reflecting an unbalanced power dynamic becoming ever more familiar as water filtration systems fail to keep up with the veritable pharmacopeia that pollutes drinking water.
This pervasive and penetrative pharmaceutical contamination is symptomatic of what has been described by gender and sexuality theorist Paul B. Preciado as the ‘Pharmacopornographic Era’ – the contemporary condition wherein the pharmaceutical industry, pornography, and late capitalism intersect to form a highly-normative system of control. The mechanism is fueled by a somato-consumerist feedback loop of manufactured desires – the testing, production, advertisement and sale of products that fulfill those desires – which subsequently reinforce the social, political, and sexual norms that perpetuate the cycle. Excite, control, repeat.
Don Edler’s ‘Pharmacopornographic Triptych’ is a sculptural relief comprised of carved, modular tablets embedded with pharmacopornographic merchandise such as ‘male enhancement’ pills, birth control pills and sex toys the artist acquired through mainstream online retailers. The tablets are coated in a thick layer of surf wax, producing an unnatural monochrome surface quality, not unlike synthetic stone – a postmodern analog to Ancient Egyptian or Mesoamerican stone carvings, the pharmacopornographic tablets are the mytho-monumental artworks of a pharmacopornographic society. Much like Preciado’s notion of gender hacking, however, Edler subverts pharmacopornographic normativity, reclaiming agency by using components of the mechanism for radical, individualistic ends – queering the system by its own means. The ‘Pharmocopornographic Tryptich’ is a trans-object: modular, mutable, non-fixed, it can be rearranged in dozens of configurations at will. The elements of the triptych are equivalent to bodies with interchangeable parts, literally embedded with methods, products, symbols and signifiers of both ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity.’
This fluidity is taken to its logical extreme in Amanda Vincelli’s video ‘HYGIENA,’ a narrative loop centered on the interaction of a human and an AI humanoid. Taking place in an alternate reality, virtual space, or near future, ‘HYGIENA’ focuses on a ritualized maintenance procedure executed within the high-key lighting and commercial production values of what could be an advertisement, music video, or porn clip. A presumably biological human carefully cleans an android whose physical and sexual characteristics are mutable according to the human’s desires. With a finger’s swipe on the corresponding app, the AI’s physique can be transformed within gradients of criteria such as muscle mass, skin color, sexual organ, etc. This transference of subjugation onto the AI blurs the distinction of who is being cared for, who is receiving pleasure, who is being used. The AI is inherently an extension of contemporary capitalism. Accordingly, ‘HYGIENA’ uncovers an essential objective of that system: identify and exploit emergent markets, even if they contradict existing normative paradigms. Capitalism will supply for any demand, whether it’s for a multisexual humanoid companion or the latest esoteric ‘wellness’ program.
Corpus, the Latin word for ‘body,’ is the etymological root of the word ‘corpse.’ The medical term corpus alienum literally translates to ‘foreign body’ – something that originates outside the corporeal perimeter of an organism. The word ‘corporeal,’ also derived from corpus, articulates the ontological distinction between the body and spirit – i.e. ‘corporeal’ vs. ‘ethereal.’ The word ‘corporation’ refers to a group of people authorized to act as a single entity and recognized as such in law. The aim of this exhibition is to explore the links between these categories and question how to draft a future cartography whereby ‘corporate persons’ bear the same accountability as biological persons, and individuals can assert autonomy over their own corporeal experience.