When an infant reacts to the entry and exit of an adult presence, they may feel a sense of loss and longing or maybe pandemonium and disharmony, for instance, when a mother leaves her child. How is this presence of power generated when the actor is missing? How do our institutional systems in religion or the public sphere exert in the absence of physical authority? Is not the pulpit at once the same device as the podium? In the Western Christian tradition, clerical objects and tools make available and amplify the holy spirit—drink from a cup, sit on the prayer bench, kneel before the pew. The way these objects dictate access to divinity reiterates and interprets the invisible and abstract force of power itself. Who is at the mercy of the rhythm of control; is it in our eyes our ears or our bodies? When we understand what radiates from within, even an obsession, one can sit and find the soul and then look from the perspective of collectively or oneness. The works reveal power's mutability in separation —here the priest is missing—the viewer sits and waits how much longer until salvation?
Marlborough is pleased to announce the two-person exhibition Shall we sit, stand or kneel?, featuring New York artist Hannah Levy and British artist Michael Simpson, curated by Wills Baker. Although from different backgrounds and generations, Levy and Simpson each unravel a dark comedy of humanistic confinement in the objects and ergonomics of the cleric.
Michael Simpson's paintings of leper squints, titled after the small holes in medieval churches (built to allow sufferers of leprosy and other "undesirables" to listen to a sermon without sitting amongst the congregation) point to the authoritarian devices employed by the institution. While Simpson's paintings directly address the infamy of religious history, he utilizes seemingly flattened compositions which, upon close inspection, reveal an inner surface that works both in pigment and formal line to yield a dynamic and sophisticated display of the act of painting itself.
Hannah Levy's sculptures use flesh-colored cast silicone and wrought nickel-plated steel to mimic the erotic and industrial. Her bench constructions twist the synthetic into bindings of the metal grid. This vision-like engineering reflects a physicality while providing a ubiquitous domestic form with a new agency where a relationship to figuration, death, and debased flesh is emphasized.
In sharing an architectural language with Simpson, Levy's benches complement his paintings, humanizing and alerting the viewer to their corporeality—something often dismissed or repressed by the instruments of the institution. Moving between abstraction and representation, the artists situate their work in a limbo where links between the spiritual and everyday world are broken down. By transforming and recalibrating—through secularization or sheer perversion—objects with embedded power, meant to elicit obedience or faith, become undermined.