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Nina in Position: Reasons for Secrets
Jeffrey Uslip

Nina In Position presents diverse artistic strategies that complicate the legibility of lack and difference in America. The selected artworks employ Walter Benjamin’s assertion, “To live is to leave traces,” as a platform from which to view and critique the body and its environs. Occupying Artists Space’s main gallery with a series of sculptural and post-sculptural gestures, Nina In Position reveals emancipated forms that, through their inherent deviance, function as “resistance to regimes of the normal.” Nina In Position is an attempt to articulate a new trajectory of sculptural encounters that rebel against the condition described by Benjamin as “Left Melancholia.” The exhibition’s curatorial focus aims to unlock the ways in which artistic exercises, histories, and narratives are re-signified within contemporary visual culture.

Nina celebrates objects borne through experimentation and insight rather than academic metaphor. Here, post-sculptural gestures evade the normalized limitations of sculpture as “objects” and allow sculpture to resonate past traditional constructions, techniques and expectations. The exhibition considers dialogic identities - “Us and Them” — and the ramifications of exclusionary practices that have caused disrupting reverberations throughout the margins in America. It is the aim of Nina to establish a, bridge between decades of artistic practice and recalibrate a trajectory of sculptural meaning.

The exhibition's title is excerpted from dialogue in the screenplay Point of No Return, the American remake of Luc Besson’s classic film La Femme Nikita. Point of No Return follows Claudia Anne Doran, a social outlaw co-opted and rehabilitated by the CIA into a covert assassin. The title character, whose code name is Nina (for Nina Simone), serves as an emblem for the transformation of split subjectivities.

The couple calls room service for a late night dessert. Phone rings.

Claudia answers, as J.P., her boyfriend, is kissing her back.

Voice of CIA operative on the line: Nina?

(Claudia immediately becomes activated)

Claudia: Yes?

Voice of CIA operative on the line: The bathroom cabinet has a hidden compartment.

(Nina hangs up phone. J.P. continues to kiss her back. Claudia’s mood changes. Claudia, identified by the CIA as her codename “Nina,” shifts into assassin mode)

Claudia: (speaking to J.P.) I gotta take a bath. I feel really dirty.

J.P: If you could just wait for room service, please.

(Claudia pushes J.P. off her. She goes into the bathroom.Locks the door. Searches the bathroom cabinet. Locates the hidden headset. Puts on the headset.)

Claudia (speaking to CIA operative on headset): Nina in position.

Through its conceptual, spatial, and material interrogation of the American Frontier, Nina in Position exhibits work that interrogates the political role of objects within the collective American imaginary. America’s efforts to close its borders and redefine its margins have resulted in the expanded regulation of its citizens—a freedom altered by these very same closed borders, high alerts, and new models of American governmental surveillance. The American Frontier describes both the perimeter of inhabited, government-regulated land, as well as the potential expansion into unsettled territories. The diverse practices encompassed by Nina In Position transcend imposed restrictions by operating as free agents, whose desire for unregulated terrain, denatures an institutional gaze.

Igloolik Isuma Productions strives to expand the national understanding of the North American Frontier. Their artwork Nunavut (Our Land) consists of a 13-part series documenting the daily life and cultural rituals of Inuit communities in the Igloolik region of the North American Arctic. In their recreations, Inuit Elders retell stories of their nomadic lives in the1940s, before government and settlement life began. Dramatized by contemporary Inuit, Nunavut (Our Land) traces the daily routines of five fictional traditional families, as they perform activities, such as hunting for walrus, erecting ice houses, and using seal oil lamps for heating. Our Land reveals the safety simultaneously created and endangered when a formalized community aggregates in a specific area: the Inuit’s existence in this extreme climate provides isolation and protection from the industrialized West, however they recognized in 1945 that their communities would be systematically eliminated should they be invaded or colonized. Also addressing the notion of the frontier is Roni Horn’s White Dickinson, which consists of an aluminum, rectangular sculpture, whose “zip” bares the phrase “My Business Is Circumference” embedded in cast opaque white plastic. The text, taken from Emily Dickinson’s correspondence, suggests the necessity to enact cultural and personal growth through the climate. Tenebris Lucet furthers Charles Long’s examination of messianic, shamanic forms and talismans within the context sculptural art history. This work, like much Long’s practice, alludes to a civilization’s new, post-apocalyptic beginning. Tenebris Lucet is formed from symmetrical constructions that provide uncanny protection for its smaller, primordial element. The artwork’s skeletal, mixed media armature of wire and papier-maché is the basis for a futuristic, religious icon that leaves the viewer considering an excerpt from the prologue of John’s gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn 1.5).

Furthering the notion of passage of knowledge and examining properties of initiation, Mary Kelly’s Flashing Nipple Remix is a series of three black-and-white transparent photographed framed in light boxes. In Flashing Nipple Remix, an intergenerational group of women - all dressed in black, with lights on their breasts and genitals — reenacts the 1971 Miss World protest at the Albert Hall in London. In the three photographs, the women move faster and faster, animating their adorning lights. In this storyboard, the women evade objectification by slowly disappearing, leaving only gestural traces of light as indicators of the social protest that laid the groundwork for future generations of feminists. In Philodendron Propagation, Lisa Tan describes the process of cloning a mentor’s twenty year old, abandoned houseplant. The original owner reluctantly left the plant behind when she relocated from New York to Southern California. Tan assumes the role of caretaker, ensuring that connection to the plant is generationally perpetuated. The sculpture is comprised of three elements: the parent plant, its two propagated offspring and trays fabricated from plywood and grey and black linoleum tiles - materials collected from the original domestic setting in which the parent plant resided.

Julia Scher’s Security By Julia 2.2 enacts an aggressive act of confrontation. Scher’s sculpture manifests a mixed media surveillant architecture of localized monitoring, in which viewers are enabled to visualize themselves as they view the artworks, transverse the gallery spaces and use the “private” lavatories. Scher intersperses surveillance footage from her original artwork at the former Artists Space in the late 80s with new, presently recorded footage, bringing the history of the institution into the post-millennium. Scher’s signature architecture engages femininity, operating counter to the male gendered systems, gear, and controllers, whose normative color design of grays, black, and blue signify maleness, control, and hierarchical dominance. Scher’s use of materials references our culture’s demand for regulation: the surveillance monitor’s video frame serves as another periphery, border, and limitation. Security by Julia 2.2 articulates a broader (re)conceptualization of landscape ecologies (natural, human, artificial, virtual, electronic) and penetrable institutional network architectures. There are cerebral and visceral consequences to being either visible or unseen. How does the individual respond to being recognized, counted, and recorded when the registers of public and private sphere collide?

Michelle Lopez’s Crux consists of recombined Sycamore branches, grafted with cast prosthetic plastic branches and metal prosthetic limbs. Lopez constructs a pastoral cyborg, whose structure is reminiscent of Goya’s Disasters of War etchings in which the landscape has been victimized by war and erosion. At the base of Crux, Sycamore branches seamlessly evolve into furniture legs. The sculpture’s elements physically depend on their own gravity; an artificial fusion occurs when the branches conjoin alluding to their codependence. When two branches touch, they become plastic-seeming more advanced and more mutually reliant at the same time. Lopez’ subversion of prosthetic plasticity and machined steel allows Crux to enact impossible, limb like bends and bifurcations. Lopez’ choice of “prosthetic” plastic examines our impulse to fill absences and biological voids, questioning what is considered to be real, necessary, artificial, beautiful, grotesque, machined, or natural. Crux also alludes to crowd mentality, with its moments of sweeping convergence paralleled by limb-like sagging and fatigued separation. Crux manifests what Jameson expressed as “something like an imperative to grow new organs.”

As an exhibition, Nina In Position attempts to confront and dismantle an aesthetic predicament described by artist Michelle Lopez in her essay on sculpture titled Exit Music (For A Film). “a condition evident in the supremacy of rhetoric-when content moves into the realm of language to cultivate meaning.” Nina embodies an alternative to the labeling of objects, forms, identities, politics, aggregates, communities, and persons as “ITs” and “THINGs.” Emblematize new modes of presence, the presented artworks challenge America’s position in the world, indict constructed and mediated identity, and investigate notions of lack. Nina In Position harbors artworks aimed at complicating othered paradigms of representation, presenting complex constructions of alterity, and whose conceptual apparati serve as an addition to the discourse on the omnipresent Culture War embedded in contemporary visual culture.

About the Curator:For the past two years, Jeffrey Uslip served as the Curator-At-Large of LA><ART, Los Angeles, where he curated Leslie Hewitt: Make It Plain, Lovett/Codagnone: Driven By Love, and Francesca DiMattio: Unhinged. Recent exhibitions include Civil Restitutions at Thomas Dane, London; November at Harris Lieberman, New York; Log Cabin at Artists Space, New York; Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The Project, New York; and Columbia University MFA Thesis Exhibition (2005).