By JENNY WANG October 15, 2023
At 526 West 26th Street #704, The Soft Embrace presents the work of New York and Texas based artist Lesley Bodzy. Her sculptures, experimenting with formal morphism, reflect an intricate interplay with textural dichotomies, highlighting the tactility and emotive expressiveness of diverse mediums.
I see the exhibition in two parts: the malleable (paint skins) and the non-malleable (cast resin, bronze, and plastic). Let’s start with the non-malleable—the solids that you caress with a pre-established idea of how the textures would feel. Relics I-III, situated at the center of the room on pedestals of varying heights, are cast bronze pieces modeled from the shapes of cleaning towels for car windows—an everyday object monumentalized and frozen in time. These shapes reinvent themselves constantly. Something about the way in which the folds twist around reminds me of Y/Project’s ss23 runway. The folds are fighting one another, almost trying to consume or devour themselves. Charged with potential energy, the folds occurring in non-horizontal directions seem to be constantly at the threshold of movement. There is a perplexing visual interplay between the kinetic tendencies of the represented objects and the solidity of cast bronze as a material. Squeezed and then laid aside, the towels’ supposedly temporary and transient shapes are preserved in time and space as a result of the artist’s intervention.
Similarly, the group of nine sculptures titled With Every Single Breath is made from 3D-printed plastic, modeled off of the various shapes of crushed paper bags. This is a process of material translation using form itself as the axis. Here, borrowing some terms from Roland Barthes, where shapes are the signified, the system and ideology of materials are the signifiers. Paper bags and window towels are taken out of a quotidian context and granted a new kind of use value. The reformation taking place in the vocabulary of value and meaning is predicated on the alteration of the materials: when these objects are no longer soft, plush, and absorbent, they are also no longer disposable. They are not expected to perform the chores of cleaning or heavy lifting, so they don’t wear out. They get to remain austere, untainted, and venerated as art objects. In a way, the logic of material transformation carries a daunting parallel to the human experience, especially to the lived realities of women having to coexist with patriarchy. The paradigm of materiality becomes a metaphor for our society, which loves to craft male-gazey, untouchable goddesses and, at the same time, subjects women to disproportionate amounts of domestic labor.
In fact, the pieces that involve the use of gold acrylic paint do speak to the experience of existing as women. Here’s when we move onto the malleable part of the exhibition. In contrast to the sternness of bronze, plastic, and resin, these acrylic skins do move. Bodzy does not mind it when viewers touch these skins. At the exhibition opening, she carries around in her hand what seems like a to-be piece of the Dialogue series, demonstrating how an acrylic-velvet “bowl” bends into different shapes. According to Bodzy, titles such as I Knew Better and Soft Embrace are “biographical in nature” but should “offer a point of departure” without dictating how the viewer should see the story. The welded metal wires define both a silhouette and a frame for these painting-sculptures, whose dazzling shine reminds me of Baroque gilding or the seashell that cradles Venus at her birth. This golden glamour subtly alludes to the “shiny veneer and stereotypical femininity” expected of women within patriarchal constructs. In a world of intimate introspection, the paint skins reflect the vulnerability of human skin and the cosmetic underpinnings of the painted skin, while they contend with, at the same time, a debate related to decorative, pretty, or feminine art.
Under these golden surfaces, we see a layer of material immediacy and interiority. Take Soft Embrace for instance, the finish of the recto is complicated by tiny, barely perceivable air bubbles as well as leaf-vein-like lines. The verso, only partially visible from where the skin folds upward, is almost perfectly smooth. Similarly, the Dialogue series juxtaposes acrylic’s lustrous finish with the friction-filled surface of black velvet. The two materials alternate between being the recto and the verso, as if competing with each other for visual dominance, pointing at different angles like sunflowers. Echoing the formal fluidity of Lynda Benglis’s pours and the conceptual complexities of Robert Rauschenberg’s combines, this exhibition’s malleable components twist and turn. As they protrude into the gallery space, they defy the categories of painting, sculpture, and installation. Paint is granted a unique subjectivity and “thingness,” independent of the limitations of the planar surface.
Exploring the magic of materiality and textural dichotomies, The Soft Embrace consists of a body of work that is sensuous and tenacious. As I write this article, I am constantly reminded of a famous quote by J. D. Salinger: “Love is a touch yet not a touch.” Imbued with visual and physical tactility, Lesley Bodzy’s work opens up a pathway onto materials’ profound emotional appeal and storytelling capabilities.
The Soft Embrace is on view at 526 West 26th Street #704 until December 4th, 2023. WM
Xuezhu Jenny Wang is a multilingual translator, editor, and writer. As a student of architectural history at Columbia University, her research focuses on mechanization, ergonomics, and 20th-century furniture design. Her writing has been published in ArteFuse, Cultbytes, and Art Spiel.view all articles from this author