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Take a look at you Longing Vessel

In the village where I grew up, there was a well. In fact, a few decades ago, in southern China, where running water was poor, every village had at least one well, which was the main source of water for people. The Chinese love the well because it represents generosity and gratitude. So the Chinese often say something: "When drinking water, do not forget the man who dug the well." However, for me as a child, it represented a spirit of unknown and mysterious. You never know how deep it is, or what lies at the bottom of the deepest well. Every time I look down, I always feel that it's looking back at me.

This Longing Vessel, installatin view

It is like a mysterious entrance on the solid earth, its mouth gaping, longing for something. When I saw the exhibition 'This Longing Vessel', I thought that the artists either had the same question or at least had the same experience as me. In the eyes of the artists of the works———E. Jane, Naudline Pierre, and Elliot Reed, These are holes, a reminder of our world, and perhaps the last window to it for those who lost their lives along the way. If you really want to find out, you've got to see the exhibition ‘This Longing Vessel’ by yourself. It is an annual Artist-in-Residence exhibition at MoMA PS1 in the Studio Museum in Harlem.

This Longing Vessel, installatin view

MHYSA, artist E. Jane’s underground pop-star diva alter ego, is sharing one body with E. Jane.

A mirrored room shows us a projection of the artist in the work “MHYSA - NEVAEH LIVE (Behind the scenes)” (2020). The stand-alone dance studio mirrors, replaces the physical audience and gives MHYSA a space to perform for herself—an act of self-healing and bodily reclamation for MHYSA, as a Black woman performer. The presence of these traces of a performative other-self triggers tensions. On the one hand, the fetishized glamour of Black celebrity as it travels as both trap and artifact across geopolitical lines. On the other, the romantic siren-song of an alter-ego that earnestly promises to pay homage to the complex histories of Black performance and the presence of Black women as empowered agents therein. E. Jane in their notes considers these tensions and is active within them: “Our bodies are . . . still traveling to places where either slaves were traded or that have histories of colonial violence . . . for purchase, as entertainment experiences.” These different facets of E.’s practice underscores that Black womanhood is multidimensional, complex, and range-full, a right to claim that feels urgent in this moment in time.

This Longing Vessel, installatin view

Naudline Pierre centers the Black body in her interrogation of, and love letter to, traditional religious paintings. ‘A Timely Rescue’ (2020) requires the viewer to ask, “Who has been visible within the secular imagination of art-making, alongside the sacred—and why?” Pierre, holding the brush, brings a Black spirituality, gesture, fantasy and bodily presence into a canon that has long excluded blackness. ‘We Are Here’ (2020) gives Black femmehood wings in a cosmic redefinition. Pierre expands the gilded frame, making space for new figures to stand within it, and to take up space newly. For the artist these figures are alter-egos and avatars in their own right, at times standing in Pierre’s place as a shield, shroud, and embrace that offers the artist distance from the canonized crush of Western ways of seeing. To not be crushed—to live! Pierre allows her figures to take up residence, to take up room, to haunt and howl, carrying us through to the other side of a longing that has troubled art history since its dawning. By portraying a mysterious world, Pierre’s work unites a personal mythology full of characters paused in intimate scenes. Drawing references from the ritual of anointing, the work emphasizes hands and touch in order to explore the complexities of existence.

This Longing Vessel, installatin view

To call on a term of Gordon Matta-Clark’s, performance artist Elliot Reed makes and unmakes “anarchitecture,”calling attention to the edifice of the body as an unresolved material that requires constant redressing. The walls of this room are covered with ‘Hue’ (2020), a digital color scan of the artist’s right hand, a skin that, as we penetrate it, pass through it, consent to it enveloping us, underscores the consumption of Black and queer bodies as an erotic, the brutality of this eating, the way Black enfleshment in its un/gendered exposure has shaped a visual culture and its violent imagination. The underpinning of the body we stand within when wrapped within Reed’s hand calls forth the ongoing case of white Democratic donor Ed Buck who, in 2019, was indicted in the deaths of two Black men, Timothy Dean, fifty-five, and Gemmel Moore, twenty-six, and in January 2021 is set to stand trial for these murders. The case of Ed Buck manifests a hell on earth, what Reed calls a “real-life horror story.” Horror and a necessary haunting can be housed in holes: we wander through cuts and tears across the wall of ‘Supernumerary’ (2020), portals to peer through, windows of witness to a quartet score of Reed’s own readymade composition. Here are the songs and whispers of all those that came before us bound up within us, our bodies careful containers to centuries of carrying. What Hortense Spillers describes as “the arrangements of captivity” is present: the contemporary circulation of Black bodies as an economy, the power dynamics that we confront as we negotiate who is held and who is doing the holding alongside how that holding might save or suffocate us. “the flesh... a prime commodity of exchange” that renders the body “a living laboratory.”

This Longing Vessel tells me, a hole exists is a defect, but more of an opportunity. Art may be the sunlight that shines into these holes, giving artists the opportunity to create. What does a hole mean to you? Maybe it's time to stop and think.

The exhibition is open until March 14th. Give you a chance to look at the emptiness and longing in your heart.



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