There is something elegant about a restrained love letter, where a cool distance sparks mystery or plays on the powers of suggestion. Still, the best love letter is messy, filled with words that fall over each other in their urgency to emote. Simple Pleasures, the group exhibition on view at Heaven Gallery, is that kind of love letter. Curator Iris Bernblum brought together artists Liz McCarthy, Caleb Yono, Selina Trepp, Raul de Lara, and Ryan Pfeiffer + Rebecca Walz, whose works sensually explore the body and desire. This exhibition displays an idea of pleasure that is manifold and mutable, appearing at once simple in essence, but impossible to confine when its nature unfolds. The result is an exhibition that feels charged and timely, inviting the complexities of seduction, touch, and intimacy.
In the central gallery, Liz McCarthy’s evolving installation, The Pen, occupies a large black carpet, strewn with clay pots and other ceramic pieces which vary in form and familiarity. Some are slumping and unfinished, while others have dried and crumbled apart since their initial formation. Streaks of clay and clay-stained handprints cover the carpet’s dark surface. The installation exists in a state of flux, as fresh clay pieces are added during the exhibition’s run, others become ever more brittle. There is a gleeful and experimental quality found in the wreckage of shards, freed from expectations of formality and order. On the wall facing The Pen, McCarthy’s video Mature Female with Wet and Dirty Clay Material builds erotic tension and while subverting pornographic tropes. In the video the artist straddles a wet lump of clay, manipulating the material until a phallic form slowly emerges and grows, finally coiling and collapsing upon itself. Through her pliable material, McCarthy embraces an eroticism found in the sensuous act of making.
A fluidity of form is also present in the collaborative drawing practice of Ryan Pfeiffer and Rebecca Walz that weaves together seductive imagery of the Western canon—imagine Grecian statues and busts of Venuses—layering iconography and erotic vignettes into richly textured compositions. Here, the artists’ practices combine, sharing an exploration and performance of form, sexuality, and the pleasure of mark-making. Their compositions resonate with the paintings and drawings of Caleb Yono, which also explore pleasure through overlapping forms, where bodies shift and meld together. With the simple materials of paper, pencil, crayon, and marker, Yono constructs scenes that feel dreamlike, or even nightmarish. Bodily forms are broken down or fantastically transformed, like those in Nightshade, in which fractions of faces peek out among a wild entanglement of flowers. These works, in addition to Yono’s self-portraits, are sensitive negotiations of power and pleasure, between the body’s contested boundaries and its desires.
Selina Trepp’s layered photographs similarly play with and push against boundaries, as they dissolve material hierarchies. Using paintings, mirrors, scraps of paper, additional odds-and-ends in her studio, and her own body—often disguised within the composition—Trepp constructs scenes that “make do” with the material possibilities existing within her immediate space. In Here I am. Here we are., Trepp’s legs become doubled between a pair of angled mirrors, as they complete two seated figures which face away from us. As the singular body is mirrored and the composition photographed, seemingly simple forms become a visual maze, in which space appears to continuously expand–both within the image and beyond it. Raul de Lara’s wooden sculptures seduce with their uncanny forms, from a cluster of dewy leaves in Parts of you I like to an unfurled tongue which extends from the ceiling, shiny and lifelike, in For those who let themselves have it. The illusion of moisture gives an unwavering vitality to the works; they will never thirst. The pleasure found here is empathetic, as viewers imagine the sensation of the sculptures’ glistening surfaces against their skin.
In her curatorial statement, Bernblum notes that these artists “bring forward the complexities of our bodies and minds with what it means to be seen, touched, hurt, and loved.” In Simple Pleasures, the body is mutable and desire revels in excess. We can sense the artists’ pleasures through the motion of lines, the impressions on clay, but perhaps most compelling is the way in which this pleasure slips between acts of making and the process of looking, moving from artist and medium to artwork and viewer.