Mindless driving is one of my guilty pleasures. Moving through the road while muscle memory takes the steering wheel is as dangerous and stupid as it sounds. Cruising inside my bubble, stuck in state of risky nothingness. The spell breaks momentarily as other cars start appearing near me. I suddenly find myself surrounded by strangers, and the only information about them I could collect came from their car models, tacky stickers and customized license plates—all external and inconclusive. My mind drifts away from driving and onto the significance exterior qualities hold in our interactions. Physical features carry a huge weight, demonstrated by how the age we read on others’ bodies presets our perception of them, altering how we talk, listen and move. While these preconceptions undoubtedly exist, I wondered how big of a role do they play in our relationship with art? Traditional figurative sculptures seem to be stuck in an age-set body, a clear exterior that allows the viewer to interact with the piece accordingly. Without figuration, the subtle internal qualities are the ones suggesting age, daring the viewer to find the hidden qualities that hold the sculpture’s maturity.
The question kept revisiting my brain, so I carried it with me to Inside out, an exhibition of works by Amy Pleasant, Mike Goodlett and Donté Hayes. The three sculptors examine the human physique through different methods, exploring the complicated relationships we have with our bodies. The intricate dialogue is a lifelong experience, a collection of movements, turns and thoughts that influence our internal and external existence. With twelve faceless bodies before me in the gallery—and mine as the only vehicle I had to drive, I decided to answer my inquiry in this space.
The visceral journey begins with Mike Goodlett’s Untitled. An unsettling hydrostone structure, shaped into a bubonic grid of a pale, almost insipid off-white color. Standing over a creamy pedestal and as tall as my bellybutton, it resembles a monument made out of intertwined guts and bones. The abstraction seems to have happened mid-morph, stuck in a pubertal state that justifies its flaky and beautifully awkward posture. This reminded me of low-quality action figures—the cheap kind, made out of tangy-smelling plastic that gave them dangerously rough edges, playful and hazardous. Just as my toys, the two boney Goodlett sculptures crave to be cracked and assembled into their final shape. Instead, they are frozen, erect in a sarcastic throne-like stance.
As a whole, Amy Pleasant’s ceramics are flattened, flirtatious bodies, monochromatic studies that elegantly pose on each pedestal. Their confident stance causes my presence to feel intrusive, making me aware of each step I take towards the work. There are no identifiable features in the profiles, only a blend of dense and slender shapes. The closer one gets to them, the more the illusion of figuration breaks down. Parsed into individual planes of cold clay, the once-suggestive shapes become more like corpses, segmented by straight angles and irregular edges. The solid clay walls are pierced by minimal slivers that highlight the most sensitive areas. Nipples, armpits and crotches display the life that once occupied the body, while turning the experience into rapid autopsies.
Three of Donté Hayes’ structures lay next to each other, assembled in an unpretentious stance. They don’t exist for anyone’s amusement, or even affect to care about my presence. The carbon-black vessels seem to have been hardened by the passage of time. They feel malleable from the inside only: growing, shifting and occupying more space in their reality. I can imagine their formation as natural phenomena, each coil is a new layer of defense, a shield that keeps maturing to protect a tender interior. The external textures are dangerous, elaborated forms that are reminiscent of crusts and scars. A tired vessel, whose hidden interior has been handed from generation to generation to protect its cultural essence.
Walking around the fragmented bodies is a tragically beautiful experience. The faceless figures are exposed in frightening stillness that allows their fixed timeframe to shine: Goodlett’s work spews a childish feel, existing in a proto-sexual reality that results in gooey toys suffering from growing pains. Pleasant explores the voyeuristic and judgmental reality that adult bodies endure, a realm in which sexual and abusive dissections are two sides of the same coin. Hayes’ vessels have a fundamental connection with an ancient knowledge, functioning as a protector of the sacred identity that lays inside of the coarse clay. The trinity is detached from figurative qualities, but still holds an age through fragile textures and harsh shapes.