Tuesday, May 6, 2008

touching me touching you

Everyone remembers the great joy (although maybe it's more a boy thing?) of going to a science museum (or even better: more recent museological funrides like the Exploratorium in San Francisco) and being able to hit buttons, making sparks fly, setting whirring planetary models into motion, proving... oh but what were those presentations demonstrating in fact?

Carl André's invitation to walk on his floor pieces of aluminum or wood squares notwithstanding (ha, a pun! - and sadly, the last time I was in MOMA, they seemed to be discouraging touching or walking on the André piece), contemporary art remains generally disdainful of the public's touch.

Not so, two gallery shows currently on view in New York.

* Yoko Ono at Galerie LeLong (http://www.galerie-lelong.com/newyork/fr_newyork.htm).  Love her, hate her, it doesn't matter.  The LeLong show (April 18 - May 31) invites the public to "Touch Me" via molded soft rubber parts of the artist's body (lips, knees, breasts, belly, feet).  The effect is a little creepy: I could swear that someone had got her nipples wet, and her foot was already missing a toe (the panel next to the feet referenced the loss as typical of the violence that a woman's body is always subject to).

Touching Yoko's knee.

I am a little confused about the work's ideology, however, for Ono asks the public to cut themselves up and objectify their own bodies by shoving their limbs or faces out through holes cut in a large canvas and having the gallery assistant take Polaroids which are then pinned to a wall (with the pictured people's comments written on them).  I wish this part of the show had more force, but everyone seemed so excited about having their stocking-covered leg or well-posed hand mounted on the wall, that it was just goofy.

(I think this was why I so loved Kate Gilmore's video piece Star Bight, Star Might (2007) from the 2007 Arsenal Show - pushing her head through that plywood is a painful and laborious act.  Splinters and scratches remain on her face when she finally manages to break through.)

Kate Gilmore, Star Bright, Star Might

I guess Yoko could have forced her public to endure something more humiliating or honest than Polaroids.  Although I saw a couple of nipples on the wall, I didn't see much that dared.  How 'bout us being forced to endure groping and touching?  Would the public oblige?  Would the public touch?  (Even sex clubs keep the lights down in their back rooms).

(Ancillary thought: Michel Leiris talks a lot about the essential element of the kind of art he is engaged in (confessional, intimate) being "risk", exposure to the horns of the minotaur... It's a good mantra.)

* Upstairs at Tanya Bonakdar (http://www.tanyabonakdargallery.com), and in concert with a major show of his works at MOMA and PS1, there is a nice participatory sound piece by Olafur Eliasson called Spatial Vibration: String-Based Instrument, Study II (see http://spatialvibration.blogspot.com).  Using something resembling (tonically) a traditional asian instrument attached to a turntable-like drawing machine, the public can create a large round paper image of the vibrations they play.  SPROINGGGG!  CHHHHRRRRING!

Eliasson's Spatial Vibration (the assistant is changing the ink pen)

Groovier still, you can take the huge round sheet of paper home, Felix Gonzales-Torres like.  Stamped with the artist and the piece's name no less.  It's got noise.  It's got free.  It's got participatory.  It's got take-home.  What more could you want?  From a gallery, at least.