By JAN DICKEY January 7, 2024
“This is the leg area,” said Serena Hanzhi Wang as I entered the exhibition she had curated with fellow artist, Eden Caine. The 13-person show, Body Without Organs, was cradled into the intimate floor plan of the Millennium Film Workshop at 167 Wilson Ave in Brooklyn, an experimental hub for non-institutional filmmakers and alternative mixed-media curation since 1966. I was looking down onto the tile floor at a simultaneous double feature of video works by Yuming Zhang, titled Bait, presented on two stacked cube-shaped television sets circa the 80s or 90s. This was perhaps the only work in the front section of the gallery without a clear leg focus. Nevertheless, it hit the right introductory note in that little bottom corner of the floor, wedged between the wall and glass storefront window, swirling amidst disembodied legs.
In Bait, Zhang, who uses his own body as a subject in the work, is revealed to us in closeup laying naked on his back, a blue and green crab crawling over his face. This Earth-colored crab is gently pinching Zhang’s tongue and ostensibly trying to enter his mouth. A non-human creature gingerly searching for entry into the human. The potential to puncture the boundaries of the human body seems to be at the core of Wang and Caine’s curatorial message, all the way from the exhibition’s Deleuzian title (freshen up on The Logic of Sense or Capitalism and Schizophrenia) down to its menagerie of artworks presenting the viewer with ruptured, blended and sexualized body parts. From masturbating fingers, to mysteriously festering calves and needle impaled toes.
Before you get too excited, even at its most salacious the human body is not sexually idealized like the softcore, elongated figurative forms we art watchers have grown accustomed to in commercial galleries these past ten years. Hands down the salacious prize (if there has to be one) goes to Erica Schreiner’s film Love is Power, which played immersively on a screen in the back part of the space. But the eroticism of Schreiner’s film is thoroughly overpowered by how intensely biological it is. She has us so close and so personal that the sexiness drains right out to become something organic and authentically human.
The works in Body Without Organs are, overall, a far cry from the sentimental neo-Mannerist trends in painting today, and that is what makes this curatorial statement truly exciting. It’s like that boring show you saw in Chelsea the other day blown completely to bits. Throughout the exhibition I was confronted with the human body in a piecemeal way. I was given glimpses of anatomy, wherein the personality of the humans are deemphasized to make way for an understanding of the human as something vague, vast and unmistakably material - an organism slipping over the earth across generations, not to be trapped inside this little sliver of 2020s culture.
In Body Without Organs, the human is nothing fancy. We are bipedal organisms positioned inside the animal kingdom, connected together by common blood and body parts, magnetized to each other through our sexuality. The fragmentary and anonymous way in which this exhibition presents us with human bodies is an invitation to take the body we think we know apart and then put it back together in new surprising configurations.
I spent quite a bit of time in the Millennium Film Workshop attempting to assemble a human being, the winter light dimming in Bushwick, the clean idyllic forms foretold all across the figurative painting world never arriving. I was finally ushered out of the gallery, and left with a strong impression of some alien organism with way too many legs. The face was obscure, a weird blend of grandfather and grandchild. Millenia and generations unfolded as I climbed a dirty staircase to join the huddled masses on the elevated M train. Together at last, me and my fellow passengers came unstuck from our singular personalities and our lifetimes.
Consequently, the ride home was an open-ended and vague sort of experience. We were one living entity, a freezing winter mass with all the potential in the world to become something in this crazy town. Evening travelers on the M train, we moved as a single egg quivering ever slightly in the roost. Our three hundred eyes dashed across the lights emitting out from piles and piles of ink black apartments. Was this a sign of life? Any second now, our egg could crack. WM
Malena del Pino
Serena Hanzhi Wang
Jan Dickey is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY. He earned an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa (Honolulu, HI) in 2017 and a BFA in 2009 from the University of Delaware (Newark, DE). Dickey has attended numerous artist residencies, most recently at The Sam and Adele Golden Foundation℠ for the Arts in (New Berlin, NY) in August, 2023. His 2023 solo exhibition, "Passing Through," held at D.D.D.D. in NYC, was reviewed in "Two Coats of Paint" under the title "Jan Dickey: Both sides now.” In fall 2023 he exhibited at My Pet Ram in NYC alongside Hawai’i-based painters Nanea Lum and Kainoa Gruspe. His work can be found at jandickey.com and his actions monitored on instagram under: @jan.dickeyview all articles from this author