Non Sterile: closing night

 

I have already mentioned how fond I was of the space that hosted my exhibition last March.

The closing night could only confirm my feeling about it. 

While the building was filled with a selection of rock’n’roll and psychedelic music chosen for my guests by the Vicar himself,  the welcome table became a tiny workshop, where visitors could create their own work of art in response to the exhibition they had just seen: all new artworks have been stuck on the guest book and I will publish some images in the next post.

On top of that, I had the chance to invite Gill Partington, Fellow Researcher at the Birkbeck College, University of London to talk about my work in the context of her research: the main church space became an auditorium where the guests could listen to Partington’s talk, here published together with some images of the event:

 

Altered Books and Altered Bodies

 ‘Non sterile’ are the words printed on a scalpel blade; the kind of blade that Linda Toigo uses in her work to cut up pages, but also the kind used in surgical procedures to cut up flesh and skin, to sculpt the body. This exhibition seems to carry out a kind of surgery on its glossy lifestyle and beauty magazines, carving them up with precision and care and reassembling them into new forms. These are the kind of magazines that make us aspire towards an unattainable physical ideal. Their endless procession of perfect bodies encourage us to be thinner, taller, younger, prettier, smoother. In this exhibition these already unnatural and impossible bodies are manipulated and tweaked still further, creating forms that are bizarre and freakish.

 This is the world of Marie Claire, Cosmo, Vogue, and Vanity Fair surgically enhanced to another degree, rendered strange and grotesque. There’s just too much perfection: a forest of ideal legs and arms and eyes and lips multiply and sprout everywhere; body parts won’t stay where they should be. It transforms fashion models into genetic anomalies and Frankenstein’s monsters. In one way the results are funny and surreal; it’s a sharp satire on the women’s magazine industry because only seeing them cut out, decontextualized and removed from the page do we realise just how unnatural and contorted these bodies are. But there’s also a disturbing quality to these mutants conjured up in the dark belfry, made all the more nightmarish by the huge, looming shadows they throw onto the walls. The title of the work ‘Paper Dolls’ refers to the quaint Victorian childhood toy; paper figures that can be cut out, dressed and redressed in different outfits. But these paper dolls are more frightening than quaint. They take on a life of their own, standing up off the page, massed together in a freakish tableaux.

 There’s a point being made here about the power that these magazines have to shape our idea of the body. To shape bodies themselves, in fact, since they often carry adverts for cosmetic surgery and weightloss products in amongst the parade of perfect physical specimens. But if the magazines are shaping us, they too are being sliced and sculpted and reshaped. There’s a complicated set of connections and reciprocities between page and body, flesh and paper. Toigo’s work is all about intervening in paper and books, and at the same time intervening in the kind of power and authority they carry.

Her work reflects on the cultural status as well as the sculptural possibilities of the physical page. We are at a point in history when the book is technologically obsolete, but at the same time more alive than ever. It seems we are more invested in it and fascinated by it than ever. It might be that now we are surrounded by digital screens, we can finally really see what paper means, the place it has in our lives and culture, what we do with it and to it. More to the point, maybe we can see what it does to us. Perhaps we’re more aware now of the materiality and tangibility of paper. We can see reading as an interaction with the book that involves not just the eye or the understanding, but also the body and the senses. From a digital vantage point we can look at paper from a new angle. Perhaps we become aware of its materiality and its quirks and strangeness. This may be why it’s now artists as much as writers who are expanding and exploring the potential of the book, and why the ‘altered book’ and the artist’s book are forms that command a lot of critical attention.

 One of Linda Toigo’s early interventions into the book was a version of RL Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. She re-made the Victorian gothic tale into an illustrated, three dimensional object; something more than a book, which told the familiar story of Dr Jekyll turning into his hairy alter ego, but demanded a certain kind of interaction and attention from its readers. Deciphering it involved not just reading but handling, manoeuvring, touching and even tearing. It had mysterious hidden compartments, strange envelopes to be opened and flaps to lift. Things were concealed and popped out, pages had different textures and materials. This book – a story of body horror and mutation – itself has a kind of complicated anatomy. It’s a kind of mutant book.

One theme of this latest exhibition, too, seems to be the anatomy of printed objects. It examines the intimate relationship between paper and bodies, the crossing point at which they intersect with one another, touch and shape and control or resist one another. Toigo’s work explores the properties of the printed page that we can easily take for granted. It carefully manipulates and transforms paper in order to show how paper is capable of manipulating and transforming us.

 

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