Written By: Conor O’Brien, thelivinggallery.blog[at]gmail[dot]com
In undressing, both body and clothing inherit a vulnerability, the aura of nakedness. Curiously intimate, encountering another’s wardrobe: an identity disassembled, dissected. The widespread use of washing and drying machines is based not only in convenience, but most importantly in the preservation of the sacred aura of privacy they afford. We treat the washing of our clothes with nearly the same attention to privacy with which we treat the washing of our own bodies. And while stricter, the limits we place on who may see our unclothed bodies are similar to the limits we place on who may see our disembodied clothes. Privacy preserves the identity’s delicate impenetrability. The image of our clothing reduced to a potential state indicates the extent identity depends on them. The symbiosis of cloth and flesh: what the body gains from the garments that adorn it, so do those garments gain from the bodies they adorn.
The main installation in MacGregor Harp’s show “You Do the Math” at Jackie Klempay Gallery consists of several racks of clothing set up in the gallery’s backyard. There is a sense of displacement: these objects have been transported from inside to outside, from a place of impenetrable privacy to a place of pure vulnerability. Yet even stranger than displacement are the accompanying senses of appropriateness and familiarity: moved outside, how closely these racks resemble trees, the floral patterns on some garments recall branches heavy with foliage. It is not uncommon for the inner and outer worlds to interact with and seep into each other. Within the privacy of our homes we allow vestiges of the outside world to adorn, flowers and potted plants, paintings of landscapes, open windows act both as barriers and portals. While outside we set up furniture, build patios and fences, extend shadows of the private world. When an item is displaced from its natural environment, it adapts to the new one. Throughout the vast cloth of civilization there are holes and windows where the flesh of nature breaks through: city and national parks, both barriers and portals.
Exposed flesh is an empathic stimulus; is it because these sheets of cloth, the ghosts of identities, remind us of flesh that we have the same reaction when we encounter them exposed? Morbid considerations emerge: flayed skin swinging from limbs of trees, displayed here, perhaps, as a warning to trespassers, or perhaps removed in the interest of scientific experimentation (vivisection is the most extreme form of undressing). The ghost of gender is here too: the wardrobe is deliberately feminine, and belongs to the artist’s fiancee, as do the tufts of hair that sprout from the top of each rack. This gesture, the incorporation of hair into the installation, draws associations between the synthetic fur represented by the clothing with real, organic human fur. Clothing is the vestigial phantom of fur shed from our genes in millennia past. Gooseflesh is the skin’s longing for a lost protector, the present-absence of body hair lingering above exposed skin. These displaced reflexes persist, senile languages from old evolutions. The hair anthropomorphizes the clothing racks, though there is already something abstractly human in their design.
The work in MacGregor Harp’s exhibition makes use of subtle gesture, minimalist arrangement, and understated display: one installation, a bowl of cigarettes set in a corner on the floor, could easily be overlooked by inattentive passers-by. Another piece, a pack of cigarettes displayed on top of a printed cloth, simply presents the object for uncomplicated consideration, where the full weight and irony of the phrase “American Spirit,” coupled with the native mascot, speaks for itself. Cigarettes, an omnipresence with a tinge of the forbidden, somehow ubiquitous, mundane, and yet generally frowned-upon, a commodified taboo, a dangerous comfort, a self-destructive system, that functions in disappearing: these associations reveal themselves. Harp’s choice of subjects is not particularly biased; cigarettes and flowers are the two major ones, and are juxtaposed in some ways (the size and white-grey scheme of Cigs contrasts starkly with his Flowers series), though the artist also incorporates into his work sports logos, newspaper comics, and, of course, clothing. The artist’s fascination lies with these overlooked objects and symbols, which have a consistent but rarely considered daily presence, and in representing them Harp employs a delicate playfulness that slides from the abstract, to the personal, to the absurd.
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