Bodies of Experience
It goes without saying that the body has long been a central subject in art practice, if not the defining subject of art making the world over. Yet during modernism in the West, and for much of postmodernism too, the human body fell out of favor as a primary subject of art discourse. Modernity focused on the truth to materials, medium specificity and a growing interest in abstraction to the near exclusion of picturing the body, even though all of these concerns were grounded in understanding the embodied experience of optical pleasures. By contrast, postmodernism returned the image of the body socius to center stage with landmark exhibitions like The Pictures Show in New York, the rise of photorealism as a national school as well as the spread of Neo-Expressionism as a trans-continental movement.
But, what is often not noted about these moments in the artworld is how the body is experienced as a lived-event rather than through discursive measures. This is because modernism and postmodernism split the difference by first evacuating human presence in favor of the disembodied eye, and then examining how the Res extensa had become a subject of enculturation, interpolation and ideological conscription. Rarely was the bridge between these two positions every crossed without one camp claiming that someone from the other side had simply “defected”. And in this way, talking about both the body and experience was relegated to being a ‘demode’ model of art making for over a hundred years.
Enter the 21st century, when the figure not only became a topic of interest in the artworld once again, but the proliferation of exhibitions that embraced bodily themes simply exploded. The cultural injunction to be modern had finally been broke and the return of the repressed was in full effect. Names like John Currin and Jenny Saville became not just figurative painters who were having an impact, but they were transformed into full blown art stars on the same level as canonical names from high modernism or postmodernism for that matter. And behind them came whole schools of figurative acolytes that hasn't subsided since.
This change in the cultural climate went by many names in the art world such as “the return of beauty”, the advent of “aesthetic pluralism”, or a neo-Baroque fascination with gesture, atmosphere and depicting the passions. It’s important to realize that this shift was prefigured by critics like Hal Foster, who's use of the term, “the return of the real”, was a harbinger for being interested in the figural aspects of representation during postmodernism. Next came the critic Donald Kuspit, who was an ardent defender of abstraction for most of his career, but then suddenly disavowed all of his previous art criticism and started writing about figuration as the only game in town worthy of serious discussion. In theoretical circles, the same sea change was referred to as “the affective turn” by the likes of Michel Hardt and Brian Massumi, both of whom produced a number of new theories that explored the role that the body played whenever someone discussed how the notion of the “body politic” intersected with embodied practices of meaning-making.
The exhibition Bodies of Experience follows from these theories in positing the notion that the subject of art depends as much on how the work transforms our understanding of the world around us as it does the ways in which our own body can become involved in the sense-making process by encountering the affects of an artist touch in making the work, the feeling tone of any given piece, and the sense of temporality that can only be transmitted by seeing an exhibit in person. The artists in Bodies of Experience give us three different takes on the kinds of subjective and intersubjective experiences that capitalize on these different categories of embodiment.
Heidi Hogden pictures the journey of the artist in different and rather challenging terrains. The spaces that she depicts are as physically palpable as they are psychologically charged, reworking the motif of the artist as wanderer, adventurer and seeker placed at the very limits of what is endurable. Her cartographies of the natural world point to environmental concerns to the same degree that they address the place of the personal in casting herself as the protagonist in geographically disparate areas. They are a kind of new realism that looks not just as how we encounter the world around us, but which depict the struggles that circumscribe the idea of habitation for this generation as well as our future.
Rigo Flores drawings show us the political extremes of how bodies are subject to systemic violence by both cartels and government officials alike. His images are pictures of the vanished people and the body bags that conceal the atrocities of so many lives cut short by conscription to a drug war that was not of their own making. His work humanizes an otherwise inhuman situation by making reportage about “collateral damage” back into looking at the specificity of lives lived, peoples lost, and situations gone awry. The ethics of drawings, of returning the temporal investments of drawing to what many considered to be a ’disposable’ or ‘lesser’ medium is upset by Flores choice of subject matter, which could not be more timely and important on the national and world stage.
By contrast, Kendra Sollars video work brings together her concerns with the qualities of the body as a kind of landscape of potentiated expressions that emerge in hypnotic and mandala-like patterns. In Sollars pieces, both the ethereal and the transcendental come together through the experience of lived forms, inverting the traditional hierarchies of sign, symbol and archetype. Instead, her works like “Synthesis” bring together the body and elegant forms of weightless choreography that allow new dimensions of otherness to emerge into the spectrum of human experience, not just through the body, but by way of embodied practices of making, sensing, and the superimposition of worlds. A sublime poetics emerges from the depths of syncopated rhythms that Sollars composes as an occurrent event engaged in the transformation of the categories of dance, ballet, performance and athleticism. In her work none of these categories can be reduced to any of the others because they emerge in an interwoven, bounded and irreducible set of experiences that refuse simple identification from the referents from which they issue.
Heidi Hogden received a BFA in painting from Minneapolis College of Art and Design in Minneapolis, MN (2008) and a MFA in studio art from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in affiliation with Tufts University in Boston, MA (2012). Her primary research interests include human-induced environmental changes as they relate to location, the examination of the natural world through visual art, and the sampling from historical artworks, techniques, and subjects through a contemporary lens. Hogden received an artist’s grant to attend the Vermont Studio Center Artist Residency in Johnson, VT (2014 and 2018) and an Windgate Artist-In-Residence from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, AR (from 2015 to 2017). Hogden’s work has been published in the Boston Globe (2012), Studio Visit Magazine (2018), and Manifest’s International Drawing Annual (2016 and 2020). She has had the opportunity to show and present her work in ten solo exhibitions including the McGladrey Art Gallery at Bentley University in Waltham, MA (2013), and the Viterbo University Gallery at Viterbo University in LaCrosse, WI (2018). Her work has also been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, including the Courtyard Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (2012), the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings, SD (2014), and the Arkansas Art Center in Little Rock, AR (2016), among others. Her exhibition record reflects both a dedication to drawing as a creative practice and an intellectual curiosity that connects the practice of drawing to larger fields of inquiry and community building projects.
Rigo Flores was born in the country of Mexico. Flores currently lives and works in Phoenix, Arizona. Flores works primarily with charcoal, graphite and oil paint. His work varies as far concept, ranging from political to portraiture themes. He received his Associates of Fine Arts degree from Phoenix College in 2013 and a Bachelor’s of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University in 2015. Flores has had several exhibitions around varies countries including the U.S., Mexico, and Portugal. His work has been in several online publications including La Voz and Phoenix New Times.
Kendra Sollars is an Arizona native currently working in video-based public installation. She received a B.A. in Art from The Ohio State University (2009) and claimed two National Championships in varsity synchronized swimming the same year. Sollars was a highly competitive synchronized swimmer for fifteen years. Her competitive swimming turned creative and professional as she worked as a head choreographer for the Arizona Desert Dolphins synchronized swimming team (2009-2012) and worked as an Artist/Athlete in the prestigious production of Cirque du Soleil’s O, in Las Vegas, Nevada (2011-2012). As a synchronized swimmer, Sollars explored narrative and form through movement and performance. She has adapted that experience into an interdisciplinary art practice that includes video, photography, performance, and installation. Sollars’s work explores our human interconnectedness with the natural world, particularly with water, often using her own physical form as the subject of her work.