On view this month at Greene Naftali in Chelsea, artist Paul Chan makes his fourth solo entry in the gallery program, featuring a new series of works Chan calls “Bathers.” Marking new iterations and elaborations on his prior work, the show explores space and movement through simple materials.
Chan’s Bathers belong to the genre of moving-image works pioneered by Chan that he calls “Breathers,” which debuted in his 2017 exhibition Rhi Anima at the gallery. Like the Breathers, the Bathers are constructed out of nylon fabric and powered by specially modified industrial fans. Each bather was designed by Chan to twists and moves based on how the fabric “body” reacts to and against the air pressure from the fans. Combining knowledge and experience from fields as disparate as fashion, physics (specifically fluid dynamics), and sculpture, Chan’s technique creates aerodynamic forces like lift and drag within the internal structure of the body to harness the fans’ air flow in order to govern a bather’s movements. The bodies pirouette and spin, move and lurk over their held positions, each time marking new ways of moving that both recall the body and emphasize its absence.
There’s much to be said in this show about the idea of personality and bodies in particular. Chan’s Bathers here all emerge from a single concept and find their respective aesthetic affects through their material variations. In Phenus 1 (2019), for instance, the bathing figure, displayed holding a towel from behind is animated by two countervailing movements. The insistent swaying forward and backward of the jet-black body’s lower section is counterpoised against the undulating and gyrating motion of the upper section. Another work, Katabasis (2019) sways from side to side as four bathers in various states of undress are connected at the arms, enabling air to enter and exit from any and all the figures. The lateral air flow traveling between the figures push and pull them into a particular ensemble of movements. In each, simple alterations of the fabric’s cut, and additions of small elements like tank tops or towels lend a sense of the human to these pieces, or pull the work into a humorous negotiation between the idea of the world outside the gallery, and the strange conversations that emerge from its presence on these gently swaying objects.
The works themselves are elegant in their simplicity, and emphasize a sense of pleasure and abandon in the enjoyment and exploration of physical movement and voyeurism, of both watching and being watched, moving and being moved. Chan seems to make the case for a sensuality of mutual enjoyment, one of simple joy passed back and forth between the object and the observer.
The show closes October 19th.
— D. Creahan
Paul Chan: The Bather’s Dilemma [Exhibition Site]