Review: ‘Remote Castration’: At LAXART, a provocative show about female power and sexual violence
“Remote Castration,” the provocatively titled group exhibition at LAXART, is a response to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Deftly curated by the nonprofit’s deputy director and curator Catherine Taft, the show puts recent events into historical perspective, throwing into relief the nexus of power, violence and denigration embedded in attitudes toward women.
The gallery is awash in the soundtrack from Nancy Buchanan’s 1979 video, “These Creatures.” The satirical, 60-second piece features a man’s deadpan voice marveling at women, as if they were pets or aliens: “These creatures, who we can and do control, what secrets do they possess? What allows them to function without violence?” The visuals — exaggerated pantomimes of femininity — seem secondary to the onslaught of this voice, which exposes and ridicules the paternalism that still permeates society nearly 40 years later.
The show also includes works by John Altoon, Paul McCarthy and Sue Williams, all known for their explorations of the darker side of sex. In this context, their often-explicit depictions of violent sexual acts are even more politically barbed.
Yet perhaps the most incisive piece in the show is a 1981 text by Jenny Holzer. Painted in red type on a white ground, it looks like an industrial safety sign but reads, “Someone wants to cut a hole in you and ... you through it, buddy,” except using a verb we can’t print here. The piece captures the intersection of sex, violence and cruelty roiling beneath a veneer of safety and officialdom.
Interestingly, works created in the last couple of years take a less confrontational tone. Jahni Moore’s “Eva I Have Loved,” a suite of 12 tender graphite portraits of the same woman, feels out of place until you get to the penultimate picture, in which the loved one holds a large, penis-shaped bomb.
Kathryn Garcia’s drawings in colored pencil are clear descendants of Judy Chicago’s feminamorphic abstractions, depicting geometric shapes in configurations that suggest a woman’s body, but also spiritual diagrams. They channel a distinctly female power.
Be careful not to step on Nova Jiang’s unassuming window frames lying quietly on the floor, each pane of glass cracked in nearly the same way. Titled “History Lessons” and “Violence and Its Echoes,” they suggest that while sexual violence may be quotidian and pervasive, it’s nevertheless individually shattering.
The aftermath appears literally in Daniel T. Gaitor-Lomack’s “G is for Goddess.” I missed the performance, but the artist has left a tale of destruction: an expanse of sand, punctuated with the remains of an upholstered chair, some tools and a high-heeled shoe. A dreadlocked costume bears witness nearby.
Finally, Benjamin Weissman’s drawing “An Intimate Task” depicts rustic log cabins in the wilderness, each one inscribed with the name of a cutting tool. The foremost cabin features the words “many tools for the intimate task.” It’s unclear whether the intimate task is sex — in which case, someone is in for a bloody surprise — or some other, potentially more probing excision.
In exploring the troubling intersection of intimacy and violation, “Remote Castration” suggests that a collective pruning is in order. Let’s extract the rotting flesh of misogyny.
LAXART, 7000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood. Through Sept. 15; closed Sundays and Mondays. (323) 871-4140, www.laxart.org
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