November 25, 2019 - Serpentine Galleries - Patrick Staff: On Venus
November 25, 2019

Serpentine Galleries

Patrick Staff, On Venus (still), 2019. Courtesy the artist and Commonwealth & Council.


Patrick Staff
On Venus
November 8, 2019–February 9, 2020

Serpentine Galleries
Kensington Gardens
London W2 3XA
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on venus, things are much the same as they are here.

on venus, days outlast years.

on venus, there were once oceans

          that have long since burnt away.

-Patrick Staff, excerpt from On Venus, 2019

Through a varied and interdisciplinary body of work, Patrick Staff interrogates notions of discipline, dissent, labour and queer identity. Drawing on a wide range of sources, the artist explores the ways in which history, technology, capitalism and the law have fundamentally transformed how we define and identify our bodies today, with a particular focus on gender, debility and biopolitics. 

On Venus presents Staff ’s most ambitious work to date: a site-specific installation exploring structural violence, registers of harm and the effects of acid, blood and hormones. Throughout the spaces of the Serpentine Gallery, Staff initiates a series of architectural interventions. Transforming the gallery into a leaking, rudimentary body, a piping network suspended from the ceiling slowly drips a mixture of natural and synthetic liquids into steel barrels, suggestive of sharing intimate fluids, or the trafficking of viruses and data. Alterations to the lighting, flooring and walls create an environment that feels at once chemically altered and sensorily charged. A gargoyle, weathered by acid rain, is positioned as gatekeeper to the entrance of the space.

A new series of acid-based intaglio etchings quote from tabloid news stories from 2017 and 2018, claiming that Ian Huntley, a convicted murderer, was seeking to transition from male to female while serving his life sentence. He was rumoured to be dressing in women’s clothing and requesting to be identified under a new name. After a number of months, the articles were exposed as entirely fabricated. The newspapers that had printed the stories deleted the reports from their websites, edited pre-existing articles or ran meagre clarifications. Reproducing these retractions and clarifications alongside the original headlines, Staff ’s etchings on steel highlight the ways in which the media and society weaponise cultural prejudices and anxieties about the lives of incarcerated people, transgender identity and the uses of public spending to mobilise panic and reinscribe social and sexual norms.

A new looping video work is comprised of two parts: the first of scratched, warped and overlapping footage connected to the industrial farming of hormonal, reproductive and carnal animal commodities including urine, semen, various meats, skins and furs. Rather than reducing the struggles of animals to anthropocentric claims, Staff points to the entanglement of species, sex, race and labour in the conditions of capitalism, advocating a reciprocal, constitutive relationship between the contemporary subject and the non-human. The video’s second part presents a poem describing life on Venus, a state marked by violent pressure and heat, destructive winds and the disorienting lapse of day into night. In its depiction of an alternate condition of non-life or near-death, the poem offers an account of a queer state of being as a volatile concatenation in constant metamorphosis.

On Venus continues Staff’s pursuit of an understanding of the exchange between bodies, ecosystems, and institutions from a queer and trans perspective. 

This commission continues the Serpentine’s ongoing dialogue with Patrick Staff, following their participation in the Serpentine’s Work Marathon (2018), Transformation Marathon (2015) and Serpentine Cinema (2015). Patrick Staff is an artist based in Los Angeles, USA, and London, UK. Their work has been presented internationally, including solo shows at Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin (2019); Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee (2019); MOCA, Los Angeles (2017); Spike Island, Bristol (2016); and Chisenhale Gallery, London (2015). Recent group exhibitions have included The Body Electric, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2019); Made in LA, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018); Trigger, New Museum, New York (2015).

Patrick Staff: On Venus is curated by Claude Adjil, Curator at Large, Live Programmes and Natalia Grabowska, Assistant Curator.

Serpentine Galleries
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On Venus
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