CATALINA BARROSO-LUQUE "soft . lipid . love"
Chalton Gallery, London, March 23rd - April 8th 2018
Oral organs. Oral organs. Spelling messy words. Oral organs. Flesh filled words.
“soft . lipid. love” showed at the Chalton Gallery, from March until April this year. The artist, Catalina Barroso-Luque, is a friend of mine. The gallery manager, Javier Calderon, is also a friend and a former colleague from the Tate Modern - the shadow of which hangs over our interactions as a shared history.
When I arrive, Calderon is outside the gallery with a portable coffee trolley. A nearby chalkboard sign advertises tea, coffee and hot chocolate at £1. It’s a particularly sunny day, but Calderon isn’t just exploiting the exceptionally pleasant London weather; this venture is in necessary contribution towards the gallery’s financial survival.
Calderon tells me about a recent visit from a group of students from nearby Central St. Martin’s, who visited the gallery as part of an itinerary which included the Zabludowicz and Camden Arts Centre. How great to be included in that line up - but how strange then, even when considered on par with such art spaces, that the Chalton must sell hot drinks to supplement their funding.
Perhaps this is just the reality now; not only a symptom of decreased arts funding, but also of neoliberalism. The gallery (if not already commercial) must become multi-faceted in order to survive - all exercises move towards the attraction of capital. Tate Modern is a prime model for this; existing not only as a gallery but also a museum, a restaurant, a bar, a gift shop, an event space, a public restroom, a landmark, a tourist attraction… etc.
For “soft . lipid . love”, the interior of the gallery is painted floor to ceiling in magenta, with black headphones laid out in loops upon the floor like loose handwriting. Each pair of headphones sprouts out from dark hearts sculpted from silicone. Spending time in here is stifling - the vibrant pink becomes an enforced atmosphere - and combined with the kinky black hearts it takes on a kind of camp, characterised feminine.
The headphones germinating from each dark organ hold a woman’s monologue - repeated groupings of prose:
Oval limbs. Oblong limbs. Obese immodest limbs. Organs with limbs. Reaching out. In. Inside you. Immodesties trickling inside you. Secrets! Dirty immodest secrets!
Words are pronounced with excess, a gasping and almost shrieking excitement, as though the woman is discovering the weight of the words each time. Each time - for the monologues are repeated, bursts of barely-containing-herself. Like a female porn actor, presenting boundless excitement over and over.
Barroso-Luque aims to “explore the permeable boundaries between self-self, self-other, self-object and self-technology”. I don’t think it’s inaccurate to suggest that this is common to the Western female experience - a dissociation between the object-self, intimate-self to self-self. The requirement is to always be “on”, moving through the selves with detachment - and as relationships (romantic or otherwise) mutate to coalesce with digital technology, the presence of the self as an object mutates to fit this environment. To be ever-characterised, ever-pleasing and present. To find some kind of embodiment within an objectified ideal. Like the female voice emanating from the headphones - intimacy becomes robotic.
Not to mention the present competition with AI, built with representations of female bodies, for the primary function of sex. How far we have come! It’s 2018 and technology is being developed so that some questionables can shag a passive lump. Aside from the apparent fact that women are still a commodity, creating perfect and semi-sentient beings for this purpose is almost as unfortunately typical. Sex robots. Of course. It’s a sci-fi (wet) dream.
In “soft . lipid . love”, the viewer has to make the action to crouch down on the floor, to pick up the headphones and listen. As I did so, I found myself wondering about the previous viewer’s personal hygiene. This may have been down to my own neuroses, but it also played upon a strong subtext - that female sexuality, within all of its representations, visualisations and enjoyments - perpetually remains taboo, dirty, Other. The simulation/artificialisation only highlights a lack. Its reality remains detached.
Back to the idea of the self-self, self-object, etc. - the pressure to be ever-present, morphing to suit the environment translates throughout our economy. The digitisation of the self has exacerbated; from factory workers and supermarket cashiers losing jobs to machines, to entire workforces whose boss is essentially an app (and doesn’t even grant them basic employment rights). Who is the robot now?
In this economy, transhumanism is a necessity - to always be on, to take on roles to fit the environment (or to survive financially). Particularly within the arts, where it is rare that an artist is just an artist. And now too, a gallery manager is not just a manager - as Calderon doubles up as a barista.
I buy a coffee before I leave. Another sign of digitisation; Calderon does take card payments (and even Paypal!) - which is fortunate, as the coffee may be £1 but I never seem to have change these days (because, you know, digitisation). Calderon hands me the card payment device, and I place my card on the contactless payment screen. It processes the transaction silently, eventually giving a reading on the screen: Thank you! “It is very polite,” Calderon says.
I returned to the gallery an hour or so later, as I’d forgotten to take some photos. I asked Calderon how the visitor count had been in that time.
“There’s been a few people,” he said. “We’re not the Tate.”