Density Betrays Us
June 29 through August 14, 2021
Curated by Melissa Ragona, Andrew Woolbright, and Angela Dufresne
By VITTORIA BENZINE, July 2021
On view at the Hole’s TriBeCa location this month is Density Betrays Us, a group show totaling over two dozen artists that asks where the human body lives in a world increasingly embodied by bits of information. Money is a number in an account rather than cold cash, meetings are transatlantic video chats, parallel lives are conducted through games and social media platforms. We know this. This effort of guest-curation by Melissa Ragona, Andrew Woolbright, and Angela Dufresne harmonizes a polychromatic conversation unfolding across the bounds of media to suss out the borders of the self in this burgeoning paradigm.
Density Betrays Us developed out of a 2020 article by Woolbright for Whitehot Magazine titled “Phantom Body,” which explores the flesh prison’s historical role in dictating consensual reality through the lens of visual art. The resulting exhibition elaborates on the points Woolbright raises throughout this writing, with works culled from numerous artist’s existing practices.
This exhibition took shape over a year of conversations, debates, and studio visits—an accomplishment itself in terms of scale. There’s innovative pure painting from Emma Stern’s minxy reclamation of depravity to shadowy portraits of an avatar from indigenous artist Duane Slick’s lineage. Angela Dufresne subverts negative and positive space through a kismet-ic collection of color while Joiri Minaya reimagines the body as camouflage amongst indigenous plants from the Dominican Republic.
In a 2018 article on posthumanism, Diane Marie Keeling and Marguerite Nguyen Lehman write that, “Whereas a humanist perspective frequently assumes the human is autonomous, conscious, intentional, and exceptional in acts of change, a posthumanist perspective assumes agency is distributed through dynamic forces of which the human participates but does not completely intend or control… There is little consensus in posthumanist scholarship about the degree to which a conscious human subject can actively create change, but the human does participate in change.”
Maybe once upon a time people were free agents—before the answering machine became novelty, before debit cards began tracking our every choice. We do not live like that anymore, and we will never go back. We are irrevocably connected.
Consider the futurists and the artist-engineers of the Russian avant-garde, their derisive disregard for the past and vigorous (albeit hyper-masculine) enthusiasm for the future. In the throes of the machine age’s ascension, they saw the potential for paradise. However, the bold new world imagined by those artists has not come to fruition. The planet is burning. We need a new frontier, a new savior, and it may be a matter of perspective rather than tangible reality.
If there are echoes of the futurist sentiment across Density Betrays Us, it’s only through this eye towards the future. One afternoon after the incredibly hopping opening reception, Woolbright spoke of the exhibition’s “humble ambivalence,” how he believes “art is a place for horizontal, non-hierarchical communities.” Each participating artist is a colleague working within the same culture. In the absence of competition that comes from this mutual understanding and focus, artists sometimes ask bolder questions, unafraid of ending at “I don’t know.” As such, Density Betrays Us eschews statements for questions. Not only is this moment in history remarkable, it’s ours, and the physical forms to which we’re bound only last a minute. Best to seize.
In a 2014 TedTalk I encountered during the pandemic, MIT-based physicist and cosmologist Max Tegmark reasons that “consciousness is a mathematical pattern.” He posits that consciousness is not an innate property of the atomic pieces that comprise us, but the patterns that emerge from certain arrangements of such particles—consciousness is the feeling of processing information. From a biological level, our bodies aren’t even really bodies, but organic printouts of instructions encoded in our DNA, an endless cycle of shedding and spawning new cells. There is a lot of neo-pagan spirituality surrounding the implications of mystified iterations of this, but I believe reality itself is magical. If the dice roll for the better, our moment in history could also be one where we begin relating to reality in a radically evolved fashion. It is, after all, the Age of Aquarius.
It matters, as well, to keep all this contemplation grounded in the real world. People materially experience the effects of our orientation towards reality. Nicole Miller’s body of work and contribution to Density Betrays Us tells arrestingly human stories—in one segment of her film installation for the show, a man recounts his experience being carjacked, a phantom limb reflecting in the mirror alongside his amputated arm. Sculptures ground the exhibition in the 3D realm, an interesting paradox to a show concerned with the dematerialized body—works by Carl D’Alvia and Terrance James and Yasue Maetake, whose conglomerates of styrofoam and shine and ossified fibers enrapture entirely.
The night this show opened, one attendee approached me by Casja Von Zeipel’s 1.5x larger than life sculpture of a modern madonna, replete with neon lashes, snatched waist, and lip fillers. “I don’t find that sexy,” he said. Standing by the same sculpture days later, Woolbright noted “the body must escape beauty.” A non-hierarchical approach to appearance begets an easier atmosphere of enjoyment rather than assessment. Eroticism must survive the transition, along with all the sensuous pleasures that make corporeal life worth living. Claudia Bitran and Caitlin Remiker Cherry both incorporate elements of interaction, the ways we regard each other. Bitran’s painted animations exercise voyeurism, entering the private world of intoxication. Cherry crafts multi-angled, kaleidoscope portraits evocative of this hyper-saturated cultural moment, which simultaneously illustrates the distinct consumption of black women.
We are bodies with senses for now, dealing in objects for the time being. Shows like this aren’t just aesthetically thrilling, they’re necessary exercises in examining our evolution, asking questions and contributing to the cacophony with thought and heart and sensuousness. Catch Density Betrays Us on view through August 14th, and search for our new savior somewhere in the future. WM
Vittoria Benzine is a street art journalist and personal essayist based in Brooklyn, New York. Her affinity for counterculture and questioning has introduced her to exceptional artists and morally ambiguous characters alike. She values writing as a method of processing the world’s complexity. Send love letters to her via: @vittoriabenzine // firstname.lastname@example.org // vittoriabenzine.com
view all articles from this author