Currently on at MoMA PS1, New York-based artist Julia Phillips makes her solo museum debut with a show of tense, stimulating sculptures that explore both the presence and absence of the human form. Featuring six newly commissioned major works alongside existing sculptures, Phillips’s work dives into the space around the body as reflective of the internal, and external politics shaping the world beyond its limits.
Phillips has worked extensively with the notions of the body as a site for investigation and creative subversion. Primarily working with ceramics, Phillips creates objects and scenes that are intimately connected to the human experience, while always remaining distinctly abstracted from an easy or familiar reading. Her sculptures propose various support structures for the human form, always emphasizing its absence, leaving a sense of utility and value in the work’s undertones. Impressions of the body are visible through casts of limbs, orifices, handprints, and other corporeal traces, referencing a hierarchy of uses and functions that always lend the viewer to a reading of the body as it is suspended in its relations to networked concepts of health, sexuality, knowledge, and more. There’s a near-constant understanding of these pieces as collections of “tools,” elements and objects designed for specific purposes and uses.
Though evocative of physical functions, these works also produce social and psychological resonances. For Phillips, the body is materially, linguistically, and metaphorically entangled in politics, as suggested by terms such as “manipulator,” “protector,” and “extruder” that appear in the titles of her works. Directives for specific actions of constraining, armoring, or penetrating the body, they hint at how formal arrangements double as relations of power. These are works that emphasize not only the body as the site of scientific inquiry, but equally as a site where various systems for the understanding and re-establishment of power can ultimately play out. The use of various tools through which a user may be able to subject another body, applying force directly to the surface, or even to one’s internal makeup.
In this way, Phillips presents a network of biopolitical elements here, fragments and pieces through which the act of subjection is reflecting and exercised. The artist understands quite well just how the development of tools ultimately shapes political relationships, and her framing of the body as the site of these exercises in relation ultimately turn that same viewpoint outwards.
The artist’s work is on view through September 3rd.
— D. Creahan
Julia Phillips: Failure Detection [Exhibition Page]