With sound and video installations, alongside painting, drawing and photography, the group show aims to prompt its visitors’ understanding, experience, and imagination of the body through images.
Stine Deja’s 2015 video, titled The Perfect Human, challenges notions of how the so-called ‘perfect’ human should move and behave, by presenting a computer-generated model of the human body, whilst narrating this ‘perfect’ human’s actions, thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the way in which the digital human on the screen is presented and described is totally unattainable for a real human body, so striving for this perfection is totally futile.
Notions of bodily perfection are also challenged in the painting placed opposite, Oyster (2019), by Emma Cousin, which depicts an entanglement of grotesque heads and bodies. The work encourages the viewer to question why it is that some bodies, or depictions of the human body, cause us to be repulsed in this way? Another of Cousin’s work, Hook Line and Sink Her (2019), depicts hands manipulating a distorted head – poking it, stretching open the mouth, nose, and eyes – which, in looking like some sort of out-of-context medical examination, points to ideas surrounding bodily autonomy, boundaries and consent.
Xiuching Tsay’s brightly-coloured, painted forms are at first glance not bodily at all, particularly in the work Spoiling our desire (2018), which looks more like an other-worldly landscape. As the title suggests, the more erotic bodily images gradually appear from the canvas, drawing on surrealist techniques found in works like Ithell Colquhoun’s Scylla (1938). Desire and sexuality, which are integral parts of the human body’s function, are often repressed and discouraged due to societal implications of shame, which is referenced in Tsay’s concealment of these bodily signifiers of desire and erotica.
Overall, the exhibition presents works by artists who each provide an alternative portrayal of the body, proving that the images we are so conditioned to accepting as portraying ‘perfect’ bodies – throughout art history, and today on social media – are so far from reality, as are the expectations placed on how we should (or should not) use our bodies.
Soft Bodies is on at Castlefield Gallery until 1 November 2020. Free entry, unticketed (though donations are greatly appreciated). The gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday, 12 – 5:30pm.