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Impossible Meetings

Impossible Meetings

In two provocative new shows, artist Janine Antoni MFA 89 SC presents visceral responses to embodied experience.

A detail of Janine Antoni’s polyurethane resin sculpture To Long (2014) | courtesy of Luhring Augustine, NY

In two visceral shows on opposite coasts, Janine Antoni MFA 89 SC has been inviting viewers to investigate their connections to their own bodies. “Throw back your head and sip from the bowl of your own breast,” her Chelsea gallery, Luhring Augustine, notes in promoting her current show From the Vow Made. “Wear your mother’s pelvic bones as a collar…. Let your head melt through your lover’s chest [as you listen to the] heart. Embrace someone so fully that your ribs weave to become one.”

The New York exhibition, which continues through April 25, presents a collection of seven sculptural works based on Antoni’s recent studies of milagros—sculptural votive offerings used in Latin culture. These surrealistic assemblages fuse together resin casts of various body parts in what she thinks of as “impossible meetings.” For instance, in pointing to the oddity of the classic gesture of feminine modesty—crossing the legs—the artist fuses a cast of her own leg with a skeletal section from hip to foot. Permanently crossed, the legs in her sculpture are emblematic of how ingrained this behavior is and how “the bone leg” of her “inevitable future” meets “the meaty leg” of the present. “I am crossing the future with the present,” she says.

In Turn, her late winter solo show at Anthony Meier Fine Arts in San Francisco, Antoni exhibited a series of pit-fired ceramic vessels inspired by the notion of crowning, the point in the birthing process when a mother’s pelvic bones resemble a crown encircling her baby’s head. “Because I’m a sculptor, I think of crowning as a sculptural moment of compromise,” she notes. “Two forms, the baby’s head and the mother’s hips, negotiate one another for a successful birth.”

A 1998 winner of a MacArthur “genius” grant, Antoni has built her practice on a series of performance pieces, sculpture, video and photography exploring her ongoing fascination with what it means to be a woman—and both a daughter and a mother. “I have a pretty extreme connection emotionally and physically to my mother, and that has completely been extended to my daughter,” she noted in a recent interview in New York Magazine’s The Cut. “To see that as a continuum is really interesting to me, especially as a feminist. Those instincts are so shocking.”

For her 1992 piece Loving Care, Antoni crouched down on her hands and knees to mop gallery floors with her long hair, using it like a paintbrush as she dipped her head in a bucket of hair dye. Her 1993 work Lick and Lather began with 14 identical busts of herself—half of them chocolate, half soap—that she slowly, ritualistically ingested to bathe away her features. For the 1995 photograph Momme, she hid under her mother’s dress, making her body bulge like a pregnant belly.

Since 2008 Antoni’s fascination with the body has expanded to experimentations with dance, including ongoing collaborations with 94-year-old avant-garde legend Anna Halprin and contemporary choreographer Stephen Petronio that have led to what she calls one of her “most fruitful periods” as an artist. In the Luhring Augustine show, the “dry bones” of her resin casts contrast with the viscous Honey Baby video she made with Petronio in 2013, which focuses on a male dancer “in utero”—nude and writhing in honey (in lieu of amniotic fluid).

Antoni has been with fellow artist Paul Ramirez Jonas MFA 89 PT since the two met at RISD in the late 1980s. After the birth of their daughter 10 years ago, she began struggling to address the profound, instinctual feelings of motherhood through her work. “In some ways this is the most autobiographical work I’ve made,” she noted in the New York Magazine interview. “[But] as much as it comes out of my experience, I’m interested in connecting to your experience. I want you to think about your mother when you look at these.”

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