Auto Italia, 44 Bonner Rd, London E2 9JS

Tender rip: An Interview with Anna McMahon and Spence Messih

Auto Italia

13 April - 16 June 2019

Interview by Emma-Kate Wilson

Forming from a mutual relationship to language and the body, Anna McMahon and Spence Messih have curated an exhibition that explore ideas of non-conforming, shifting between texture and space to express the undefinable. ‘Tender Rip’ takes departure from the declassified and decoded, through a utopian sense of perception. The artists highlight the disparities in what is universal, expanding on ideas through their own sculptures, as well as with works and words from Jos Charles, Brian Fuata, Real Madrid, Vincent Silk and Ainslie Templeton. McMahon and Messih’s new sculptures contain tools for realising the mythologies of the other artists.

(Emma-Kate Wilson) - Can you give me a summary of the show?

(Anna McMahon and Spence Messih) - ‘Tender rip’ is a collaborative project that explores transformations of bodies by and with language, and the slippery processes of coding and classifying both. We’re aiming to ask what it means to wilfully occupy the site around inclusion and exclusion – surfacing ideas of absorption and proliferation, opacity and readability.

(EW) - How did you come to an artistic reflection on the body, and subsequently, the language attached to defining the body?

(AM and SM) - We came to the body through thinking about language and how it determines and situates bodies. We were interested in the architectural possibilities of language – whether written, spoken or gestural and how language in whatever form, has the potential to contain or expand.

In developing the show, we wanted to mobilise the site of the ‘stain’ and asked the invited artists to also have this in mind. We took the idea of a ‘stain’ as a movable, conceptual site of;
resistance/stubbornness/porousness/a-look-back/a doubletake/trace/fault/trauma/emotion/memory/materiality/baggage/history/legacy/reputation/shame/joyous imbalance/acceptance

One not inherently negative or annoying but rather one that;
carries/oozes (both ways)/acts as a portal/has no and/or multiple direction/repeats on itself/resists removal/festers/ferments/accumulates/strengthens/grows

In particular, we were interested in how these things feel for tactile and emotional bodies. By existing in the ‘stain’, we wanted to look at the ways bodies transform language and language transforms bodies.

(EW) - How does the metaphor of the ‘stain’ fit into the aesthetics of the body? Does it extend into physicality or sit as a description?

(AM and SM) - We asked the artists to consider it feels like to be a ‘stain’ – to inherit, occupy and/or embody the site of a stain. We were interested in bringing together works that destabilise and reimagine the inherent power of language. Often used as a tool to classify, define and regulate bodies and identities it can also be mobilised as a tactic to reclaim, reinvent and resist – allowing for these same bodies and identities to thrive. Here the power of language slips and spills. We have aimed to ask what it means to wilfully occupy the slippery site between/around/beyond inclusion and exclusion.

(EW) - How and why did you choose the artists?

(AM and SM) - We began thinking through the practices of the artists in relation to ideas of opacity, readability, performance and materiality. We were drawn to the complexity in each of the works presented and how they direct or redirect both legibility and architecture in the space.

(EW) - What kinds of works can we expect to see in the exhibition from the artists you’ve chosen?

(AM and SM) - For the show, Brian Fuata is exhibiting a work from a 2014 series titled ‘Care disfigurements (all arms)’. The white bed sheet is embroidered with white text that reads ‘ALL ARMS’. The sheet hangs by two mannequin hands that emerge out of the wall. American poet, Jos Charles has a poem ‘VII’ from her latest collection of poetry ‘feeld’ printed in vinyl on the front window. The text has been installed facing into the space, making it legible from inside the space looking out.

Real Madrid, a collective made up of the duo, Bianca Benenti Oriol and Marco Pezzotta, have a series of hand-blown works titled ‘Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stoned’ (2019). While their delicate objects often refer or include chemical products (drugs, hormones) and borrow forms from various pop cultures, the collective also has a textual practice which includes working with poets and writers. Their writings actively support and produce a narrative that focuses on “mutual relationships, development of multiple identities and gender trouble”, including an intriguing reflection on contemporary masculinity. For ‘Tender rip’ Real Madrid’s piece resembles, in their words, “three of the characters from the cartoon ‘Once upon a time life’, a cartoon developed at the end of the 80s for kids to learn about the human body. Each element of the body is humanised; thus, the social system is repeated in a smaller scale inside the body.”

(EW) - Are you both bringing new works into the space as well?

(AM) - I have a new sculptural work in the exhibition. It is made up of three electric hoists (similar to what you might find in a mechanics workshop), that lift and lower leather hides and honey soaked hankies according to a coded score. This work recalls a specific event that occurred in a workshop shed on our farm when I was four. I’m trying to represent here how these memories/smells from this moment have translated into my own adult life. More broadly I’m interested in the audience reading into it a feeling of slaughter/pain/pleasure/anticipation coupled with readings of BDSM/harnessing/restraint/resilience/holding back/going forward etc. I’m interested in how time tunnels and stains bleed out. Behind the moving hoists at the back of the room is a cocktail fountain filled with powdered milk. This adds a sort of pathetic care element to what is otherwise a display of quite brutal materials. The fountain is constantly whirring like tears/blood but also keeping score with a reprieve of protection/nutrition.

(SM) - I have two new works in the show. The first is a stained-glass diptych titled ‘Wet things dry, dry things get wet’. The two works feature a near-identical blue dew ooze motif that speaks to ideas of regeneration and opacity. It is unclear whether the ooze is friendly, like a restorative mist, or dangerous, like a thick smoke. The second work is a series of three steel bench-like forms titled ‘Hard things soften, soft things get hard’. The works have the prefix ‘RE’ welded into their ends at different orientations. I was thinking about people sitting and waiting/watching together for too long ... repeating, resisting ... eventually bending and breaking forms. My practice speaks broadly to sites of pressure, power structures, materiality and language and more specifically about these things in relation to my own trans experience. The works are a continuation of my recent re-examination of the processes and materials historically associated with abstraction and minimalism.

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