The New Member Show at The Front, New Orleans

By March 31, 2023
Video still of Kelsey Scult, Slice, 2022, film installation. Courtesy of the artist and The Front, New Orleans.

The Front recently welcomed twelve new members to its collectively operated, artist-run space in New Orleans. Signaling a healthy shift in the organization’s composition—with new members now outnumbering existing ones—The Front New Member Show opened on March 11 and features works by Diane Appaix-Castro, Raina Benoit, Basqo Bim, Christine Crook, Anderson Funk, Hayley Samantha Jensen,Déja Jones, E Marshall, Ulrika Matthiessen, Kelsey Scult, Sly Watts, and Summer White. From sprawling costumes and elaborate masks to paintings, drawings, and an immersive installation, The Front New Member Show reflects the breadth of practices that the incoming members bring to the collective. 

The exhibition begins with explorations of the visceral—imposing figures, bulging appendages, ripe fruit, and a beating heart. Christine Crook’s otherworldly creatures greet visitors in Gallery 1. “Desert Baba” (2019) is comprised of a beige coat liner, a peachy silk skirt, and a jock strap, all pieced together and adorned with flesh-like growths made from poly-filled pantyhose. Part chrysalis, part extraterrestrial, the resulting organism evokes the work of Louise Bourgeois or Senga Nengudi while its wearability invites the possibility of activation. This air of performativity is most potent in “Pink Baba” (2020) and “Feral Queen” (2020). In the former, glittery pink tiers of fabric cascade into the shape of a dress, while the latter is enveloped in shaggy clusters of synthetic hair. Both are topped with bulbous papier-mâché heads. 

Installation view of The Front New Member Show. Photograph by Yashi Davalos and courtesy of The Front, New Orleans.

Playing on a loop behind Crook’s work is Kelsey Scult’s “Slice” (2022): a 15-minute film that traces the entangled relationships and embodied traumas that play out in everyday lives. Oranges are a recurring theme throughout Scult’s work; they appear in numerous scenes, floating in a bathtub or superimposed on trees in a surrealist fashion. These fleshy fruits act as a poetic backdrop to the film’s considerations of how we might begin to unravel, remove, and mend wounds. From a dreamlike conversation with the parent of a past partner to a scene where two characters slice open their chests and dig around for the calcified traumas in their hearts, Scult’s film lays bare the interconnected nature of emotional landscapes.

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Summer White’s work in Gallery 2 is similarly saccharine with symbolism. In “Injury Alchemy” (2021), pale tones, floral patterns, and fresh pears ornament the backside of a nude figure wearing an animal print garment. The figure’s face is not visible; instead, they appear to float in this flattened allegorical space. Adding and stripping back layers of oil and acrylic paint, White imbues her work with a patinaed quality. The artist hints at processes of collage throughout her paintings before moving more explicitly into mixed media with “Reap” (2022). The centerpiece of this work is an intricate spine. Curving in motion with another faceless figure, the delicate backbone is interrupted by an image of a butterfly. 

If the works in Galleries 1 and 2 invite a deeper grounding in corporeality, the artists in Galleries 3 and 4 call for a distinctly more conceptual encounter. “Can you believe there once was everything,” asks Diane Appaix-Castro in “In Cipher” (2023), “And right beside it, consuming it, was nothing?” Consisting of a sleek white orb with a chin rest, headphones, and a small stool to stand on, Castro’s work is designed to be experienced alone. A projection of static noise flurries around the inside of the orb, while the artist recites a poem about everything and nothing. “Not nothing like when you dream a beautiful dream,” Castro narrates, “…but when you wake up you remember nothing.” The makeshift screen gradually narrows, until all that is left is a thin vertical strip of flittering white-grey particles. The result is both quieting and disorienting; it is all the visitor can see or hear in an otherwise black expanse. 

Video still of Diane Appaix-Castro, In Cipher, 2023, multimedia experiential installation. Courtesy of the artist and The Front, New Orleans.

The Front New Member Show offers a vision of the future that is both thoughtful and playful. It is a future in which people think carefully about the circumstances that shape who they are, as well as the gnarled and twisted nuances that inform how they relate to others. Each artist compels viewers to not see themselves as separate entities, but as part of a vast network of people, places, practices, and ideas. It may be a heady start, but the New Member Show sets the tone for an energizing chapter to follow.   

The Front New Member Show is on view at The Front in New Orleans, LA through April 2.

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