“Sex Ecologies”

Natasha Marie Llorens

February 24, 2022
Kunsthall Trondheim, Trondheim
December 9, 2021–March 6, 2022

At first glance, I thought Jes Fan’s iridescent installation Mother of Pearl 東方之珠 (2021) was simply a set of surrealist silk scarves strung up between aluminum poles. In the mostly abstract, brightly colored close-up images of oyster shells’ undersides I saw the stage set for a (deliciously) campy eco-political sex show. The images printed onto the fabric document a process by which the artist had four Chinese characters implanted into a variant of pearl oysters native to Hong Kong; the oysters responded to the implants the way they respond to sand, coating the intruder in mother-of-pearl. Each of the four characters translates to a word that, taken together, form a colonial nickname for Hong Kong: Pearl of the East. So, yes, a brilliant eco-political sex show starring the oyster slathering layers of nacre and wet dichroic substrate over the legacy of British colonialism. Fan’s work sets the tone for “Sex Ecologies,” a group show curated by Katja Aglert and Stefanie Hessler, with Prerna Bishnoi, Carl Martin Faurby, Kaja Grefslie Waagen, and Katrine Elise Pedersen, that presents nine newly commissioned works spanning both floors of Kunsthall Trondheim. Asking playful but biting questions about contamination and desire, the works on view critique the ways in which the Anthropocene leaks into normative conceptions of sex.

In the text accompanying Margrethe Pettersen’s work Láibmat (2021)—a small enclave made of hand-dyed and embroidered silk panels in which visitors are invited to listen to an atmospheric audio piece on headphones—Hessler writes: “Allowing oneself to float on and in the river is a form of sensual and respectful surrender: existing at her tempo, being moved by her. Skin against water.” Láibmat means “floating” in a dialect of Sámi language spoken by people indigenous to the Nordic region. Hessler’s observation on the surrender implied by the term echoes a more diffuse injunction to the viewer of “Sex Ecologies” to pay attention to the subtle spectrum of interdependences between the desiring body and ecology.

In the center of Anna Tje’s installation Supernova Fruits, I’m So Glad You Chose Me (2021) is a seat made up of segments shaped to resemble a safou fruit, sometimes described as an African pear. You can find safous in Cameroonian and Malian shops in Paris and Brussels if you know what to look for, but they’re not widely exported. This singular sofa-construction, entitled The Core (2021), provides a 360-degree view of the installation, which includes a video, a record player, and a collection of ceramic sculptures that reference the safou. Tje’s upholstered homage to the fruit shimmers. I approach cautiously, running a hand along its surface, a rich purple bazin textile. Before I consciously decide to do so, I sit and then immediately lie down, letting the rounded edges of each segment support different parts of my back, and listening to the voices in variously accented French emanating from the record player. The audio is a compilation of fragmented conversations about Black French-ness, queerness, and belonging delivered in a light tone that signals to me that the interlocutors feel safe using such open language about difference. I float there on the safou fruit for longer than I intend, unwilling to relinquish that safety or the feeling of the bazin fabric under my fingers.

In the basement floor of the kunsthall, I reach to part the latex curtains of Ibrahim Fazlic’s installation The Tingly Room (2021) without hesitation, unself-consciously prepared to take my place in one of the two sex-play swings hanging off the room’s metal armature. I breathe in deeply the familiar odor produced by latex off-gassing and step halfway into the small space created by the draped latex before I realize that someone is sitting taut and still, suspended in the other swing. I hesitate, and then decide that this is a performer, part of the work strangely unmentioned by the wall label. I withdraw and circle Fazlic’s installation, parting the curtains on each side as I watch the man from the different perspectives offered, marveling at his concentration and the sustained physical effort needed to maintain suspension. I make a remark about his endurance to a staff member as I leave the space, and she startles. He is not a performer. He is a visitor who has returned several times to soak in the audio playing on headphones, designed to induce ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). The sound is a scratchy, high-pitched voice of a “dominatrix microplastics siren call[ing] the listener back to the seafloor to rot,” as Hessler describes it. I imagine, for a moment, that he takes up this space to protest the premise of this exhibition, of submission to deep sensorial interdependence with the body of the earth and others’ bodies. He floats but does not surrender. His protest, if that is what has brought him back day after day, is in vain. It is utterly eclipsed by the unrestrained material curiosity and polymorphous logic of the installations and videos all around this latex box.

Sexuality & Eroticism, Nature & Ecology
Queer Art & Theory

Natasha Marie Llorens is an independent curator and writer based in Stockholm, where she is professor of theory at the Royal Institute of Art and co-director of the Center for Art and the Political Imaginary.

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Kunsthall Trondheim
February 24, 2022

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