Doreen Garner Sculptures Traumatic Stories of Illness and Disability – ARTnews.com


It is easy to think of disease and disability as simply a failure or lack caused by or located in an individual’s body, rather than a condition which is also often produced systemically and inequitably, whether by the through a health system that discourages uninsured people from receiving preventive care. or by environmental pollution in low-income communities. Racism and capitalism help produce disability.

Doreen Garner’s immense bewitching sculptures make this last fact unmissable. The American artist portrays horrific historical episodes inside and beyond the doctor’s office that underscore how racism can be a crippling force. His solo exhibition “Steal, Kill and Destroy: A Thief Who Intended Them Maximum Harm,” at the Halle für Kunst Steiermark in Graz, Austria, opens with a long view of his striking mural construction. Red square of those ravaged and without consent (2018). Half a dozen large wads of brown flesh – convincingly rendered in silicone, fiberglass, and other materials – hang from oversized steel hooks inside an open metal frame lined with red fluorescent tubes. Sometimes human hands and breasts are visible when stapled, sewn, or pinned to other parts of the body with the same skin tone, suggesting the dismemberment and reassembly of black women’s bodies. The work is extremely disturbing.

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Red rack testifies to the dehumanization of blacks, and is the result of Garner’s research on James Marion Sims, considered the father of modern gynecology, who experimented in the operating theaters of black female slaves. Based in Austria, Garner’s work also inevitably suggests parallels between the Nazi experimentation with Jews and other marginalized groups. The artist demands that we face these violent stories. But beyond turning the trauma of black women into an object lesson, she also renders these bodies with extreme care in a poignant replica to the painful Sims operations: The forms are filled with not only yellow foam insulation, but also pink and red beads and glass beads. Garner the pearl itself.

Garner’s most recent work focuses on white perpetrators rather than black victims. Two examples are exposed in this show, fortunately little hooked, because each work is intense and the breaks are practically necessary. THE PALE (2020) is a bust of a white horse. A wall text reveals that it depicts one of the four horses whose riders were tasked with killing a quarter of the population in the biblical story of the Apocalypse. It is also made of foam and pearls, as well as Swarovski crystals. Yet at first glance, the horse’s disgusting qualities do not come from the horrific deaths it alludes to, but from its materiality: the head itself seems to threaten microbial contamination. Its whiteness is not the product of purity but of a fuzzy “mold” spreading over the raw flesh of the creature. The decapitation point faces viewers, her cavernous and shiny pink bowels appearing vaginal. Garner considers this Bible prophecy fulfilled, since white people – white settlers and saviors on horseback – have already spread diseases like smallpox around the world. In more contemporary terms, the United States and European countries continue to accumulate resources such as vaccines that keep them safe.

Two sculptures are hung on the adjacent walls.  Both looked like flags - those of Portugal and the UK - but are rendered in tan and reddish skin tones with red spots resembling inflammation.

View of “Steal, Kill and Destroy: A Thief Who Intended Them Maximum Harm”, 2021, at the Halle Für Kunst Steiermark, showing Approximately documented, three million eight hundred ninety-four thousand fifty-six, 2021 and Approximately documented, three million eighty eight thousand seven hundred seventy-six, 2021.
Photo © kunst-dokumentation.com / Courtesy of the artist and JTT, New York

Amounting a similar review, the two works Approximately documented, three million eighty eight thousand seven hundred seventy-six and Approximately documented, three million eight hundred ninety-four thousand fifty-six (both in 2021) each represent a flag – that of the United Kingdom and Portugal – with titles which, according to the artist, refer to the number of blacks each country abducted, transported and enslaved during the slave trade. transatlantic slaves. (Historians’ estimates are often much higher, but the data is imprecise.) The stripes and color blocks are assembled from silicone in fleshy Caucasian tones and pitted with textures suggesting symptoms of diseases such as smallpox and Scarlet fever. The two flags hang several inches from the wall in front of mirrors which reveal that black and brown flesh are the foundation of the flags.

Much has been written, debated and proposed regarding the ethics of representation and anti-black violence, and Red rack is a daring artistic response. Garner’s works directly address historical and current traumas and suggest the degradation of authors. This approach stands out in particular from the work on disability justice by other American artists, who tend to focus on access or empowerment, and resist figuration. Cite frustration as a trainer she felt like a child spending time in the hospital with her disabled sister, Garner prompts viewers to consider how white supremacy and imperialism cause disability, with effects that extend far beyond any individual.


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