Jade Walker’s installation Quadri-Poise at Blue Star Contemporary is queasy-making, filled with foreboding. Something is wrong, but stifled — mute as the dead silence that announces a predator.
Strewn across the small room of the exhibit is a collection of abandoned things. A tufted cane coupled to a pipe and wrapped with buttoned strapping is thrust into a rounded mass of fake fur. Are the straps a prosthesis or bondage? The fur looks wet, aged, or tossed in passion. Puckered flesh-like rubber sheet surrounds the wound, held by fraying sutures. In the corner a huge wood pole is topped with a laminate crossbeam like a giant’s mallet. It braces the corner of the room, but underneath are small bits (the cane’s tip or doll’s shoe) holding up the mammoth construction. Lining the walls like a loading dock are small bumpers. A swath encrusted with broken rubber nipples crosses the back wall. Everything is mottled, pale as chlorine burns. Preventing the viewer’s approach is a tiny barricade, inches high, fronting the scene. This is the scene of a wreck, a car crash of sorts, perhaps domestic.
While living in Kyoto, Japan, for several years, Walker often visited the public baths. Surrounded by three generations of naked women, she discovered a constant variation in bodies. Nipples distend, wrinkle, and bend with age. “It is,” she says, “the same for men.”
Pairing found objects with new constructions, Walker creates sculptures and tableaux that comment on gender, organs, and the mutations of ageing. Though the elements of the work may be familiar — fake fur, pipes, and straps — this isn’t camp or nostalgia. The objects seem anthropomorphic, but whether they are bodies or body parts is ambiguous.
Walker relates that an older male viewer once commented that on seeing her work he knew she must be a woman. If he had seen her current installation, he might just as well have said that she must be a shaman. The fur-thing looks much like the vomi, the mass of bloody fur or feathers a shaman sucks from his patient’s body while treating disease.
But in contemporary society, organs are apparently a feminine concern. The assumption might be due to the many feminist artists that have dealt with body issues since Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party celebrated the vulva in the 1970s. Or perhaps, the masculine tradition overlooks organs — unless they are eroticized. Boys today are famously fond of avatars — virtual bodies that don’t age or become ill. If killed, no matter: just boot up the game again and keep playing.
Stories from books and news items inspire Walker’s work, but they are just starting points. In the current work, Walker mentions that women in Japan who labor long years in rice fields are subject to developing a curvature of the spine as they age. The cane’s curve replicates the bent shape of their backs. But the cane represents itself, too. Walker’s bits and pieces swirl to metaphor and story and back again to being pieces of sculpture, textured shapes in a room. Quadri-Poise is part of the “Texas Biennial,” curated by Virginia Rutledge.
Free, 12-6pm Tue-Sat, 12-8pm Thu, 116 Blue Star, (210) 227-6960, bluestarart.org. Exhibit on view to May 14.