On ViewMagenta Plains
February 5 – March 10, 2022
Who is a worthy subject of the contemporary portrait? Last February, I wrote about Angela Dufresne’s show at Yossi Milo Gallery, a show that posited what a post-humanist figurative painting practice could look like by transferring the significance of the individual subject to the group that they are swept up in, in all of its polyphonic swarm. This transition from critical feminist theory to depicting our ecological contingencies in figurative painting has become a recent development. There is an urgency to reconsidering humanist subjects as the background of human life continues to drift into the foreground. Simultaneously, there is the realization that the existential threats to our shared existence require community organization, not individual awakening or self-care.
A year later, Danica Lundy’s exhibit Three Hole Punch potentially offers an alternative response to a post-humanist painting practice through an intentional multivalent painting. Although painting itself is always multivalent, Lundy purposefully uses brushstrokes to index multiple interpretations and coexisting moments of time and space simultaneously, specifically upsetting the boundaries between personhood and objecthood. For example, in Compressions (2021), a wrinkle in the fabric of a blanket also weirdly registers as a vein that is painted with the same texture as a nearby telephone cord. Lundy is purposeful with this texture confusion, throwing materiality like a ventriloquist throwing their voice, painting shiny cylinders with heavy impasto, or human skin through machinic, rectilinear forms. This multiple inter-translation of time, space, and meaning is unique to painting. In the case of Lundy’s work, this multiple indexing—one that forces an agnosia between muscle, tissue, cord, and wire—ultimately makes the world of objects more human and the world of humans more object-like. When it is most successful, it works on a Deleuzian level of disassociation, where the world itself becomes reticular, undifferentiated—and the bodies are plugged into an ecological machine that is at once materially real and psychically understood.
In Art, as Device (1917) Viktor Shklovsky wrote that abstraction’s utility was the disruption of the over-automatization of everyday life. Lundy’s indexical uncertainty has an opposite effect, driving directly into the manic disorientation of self and space, a compositional confusion of figure and ground. The multiple registers and open indexes of mark-making, and the estrangement produced within the representational image that resists quick gestalt, produces an anxiety that echoes our difficulty to individuate in the newly territorialized Web 3.0 and the subsumption of all of our interests into non-consensual data collection, down to the harvesting of our pictures at parties.
Figurative painting took a navel gaze-y turn during the Obama administration. Bodies in paintings were seen on contemplative wilderness hikes, looking in the mirror and pinching body fat. Lundy’s work seems to both acknowledge this recent inward turn of figurative painting while complicating and evolving it into a post-humanist turn. Ten years out from a solipsistic moment in figuration, the subject in U of u (2021) gazes so hard into the navel that the body splits and splays open into a genre of body horror. Is the neoliberal mantra, that the personal is political, a Cronenberg fate of self-alienation?
This hollow body motif reoccurs throughout Three Hole Punch. The language of Lundy’s inside/outside isn’t patient; instead it’s a carving out, a splitting of the body down the center. Lundy’s inside/outside politics of self triggers the nervous system. Once primed, the show registers the spectrum of Lundy’s material handling of paint in the spine as much as in the eye. In Ferry Ride (2021) and U of u the bottom of the painting dives straight down the spine and into the ground, transferring into us a dizzying vertigo. As your eyes move up the paintings, the vantage point shifts, bending and pulling sharply upwards towards you like the peak of a rollercoaster, before speeding away into the far distance as you reach the top of the canvas. The multiple perspective points create a forced fisheye lens, or bring to mind the visual sense of a 360-degree camera, where the farther things get away from the lens the more legible they appear. The more we try to look down at ourselves, the more anxious and vertiginous the space becomes.
Whether the exit velocity through the self is able to arrive at something more transcendent or critical seems secondary to what Lundy’s multiple indexing allows. Spark up, gas down (2021) accelerates her ideas and scale to the genre of history painting. An open, invisible car door is a compositional device that divides up the bodies within the scaffolding of a parking lot hangout. For every panic attack felt in the forced first-person perspective the painting sets up, you are also made aware of the bodies of others. With the fear of being a poser, there’s also the chance of finding community, the thrill of romantic possibility, and the luxurious in-between of being bored and having nothing to say on a Friday night.