Rebuilding the body in the post-digital age

Painters and sculptors construct Frankenstein-like work out of disembodied pieces of art

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Anonymous, reproduction painting on found manuscript paperCourtesy of the gallery

Artists have always grappled with the human body through their work, experimenting with different mediums in an ongoing – possibly endless – attempt to understand our physical selves. A theme paramount to today's generation of artists tackling the question of body perception in a post-digital world. New exhibiton Hands Off!curated by Dazed's visual arts editor Francesca Gavin, is a curation of pieces from artists like Neil Rumming, Celia Hempton, and Aleksandra Domanović that are all connected through detachment: “I’m very interested in the augmented body – the idea that we engage so much with screens, our phones, and technology in the everyday that it is changing how we feel about our own physicality. I felt the works that present the body as chopped, dismembered, and floating, were a perfect metaphor for that emotional (dis)connection.” Below, we speak to Gavin about representing the body in an emotionally disconnected world.

What inspired you to take 'fragmentation' as the theme?

Francesca Gavin: I kept noticing artists creating images and objects around disembodied body parts. Most of my ideas for exhibitions come from making connections between the works that I observe. I liked the idea of how together these pieces formed some sort of body – though an incomplete one. Together they felt like some kind of whole avatar, but one that was more Frankenstein-like, made of parts that didn’t quite fit. I’ve always been interested in ideas surrounding the uncanny – I did my BA dissertation on Hans Bellmer’s photographs – and there felt like a real connection between these artworks and those Freudian ideas about our visceral engagement with objects that feel human and inhuman at the same time.

What was behind your decision to choose these particular artists?

Francesca Gavin: They were all exploring these ideas already. Celia Hempton for example has an entire series of paintings that are created live through an internet sex chat site called ChatRandom. She often focuses on an abstracted crop of male cocks. It was a perfect example of work about the body, the digital, and the changing experience of perception in relation to screens. Only a few works in Hands Off! were made specifically for the show – the rest I found. The list could have gone on! Tony Oursler’s recent works at Lisson, Cecile B Evans’s work with teeth as motif, or Antoine Catala’s sculptures would have all fit too. Horse and Pony Fine Arts; the disused butcher's in Neukoelln in Berlin where Room of Requirement asked me to put on the exhibition, isn’t an exceptionally large space, so I had to, um, ‘cut off’ the idea at some point! 

Do you feel it's important that the pieces are slightly unsettling for the viewer, that they have an edge... a dark side?

Francesca Gavin: I’ve always loved work with a dark side I admit – I wrote a whole book on the gothic in contemporary art called Hell Bound!.  But what I love about darkness is it often sits on the same line as other reactions like humour, relief, or oddness. The macabre is just another great method to grab the viewer and make them consider ideas about their own experience – or in this case their own bodies.

What's one body part you couldn't live without?

Francesca Gavin: My mouth. It's so bloody useful.

Group exhibition Hands Off! opens on 12 March 2015 until 5 April 2015, hosted by the Room of Requirement Berlin at Horse and Pony Fine Arts

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