I didn’t expect a youthful art show to represent sex, as did Quentin Crisp, to be “the last refuge of the miserable.” But the libidinal charge driving recent utopian art seems, at least in the group show “Splay” now on view at Roxaboxen, to have fizzled. Elise Goldstein hung a series of twenty-four cotton handkerchiefs that physically record the artist’s act of forcing herself to cum once per hour over the span of a day. Dismal statements like “I am alone” and “I am so small” are written in pencil on the “cumrags,” which one handles with plastic gloves, and whose authenticity was in olfactory evidence at the opening. Along those lines, a silver egg vibrator hung from the ceiling dances on the surface of a bass drum in Fritz Welch’s installation, “Conquer Death, Down With That Stupid Hair!” Also on the subject of self-stimulating, Tessa Siddle’s two-channel video, “Flopsy Loves Mopsy Says Flopsy,” depicts two clones of the transgender artist in bunny suits feeling each other up with a gothic stoicism reminiscent of Donny Darko. Bondage is rendered endearingly silly in Steven Frost’s wearable waistband-restraint performance artifacts, as well as in Ivan Lozano’s black-lit milk crate outfitted with chains and piercings, and the alarmingly massive gem-encrusted butt plug in Synvia Whitney’s installation. Perhaps the creepiest piece, Rachel Lowther’s morbid “Mammals,” consists of prostrate multi-limbed beings created through cut-up and reassembled snapshots of naked bodies. The sense of disintegration and exhaustion in “Splay” may, through what Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick calls “erotic pessimism,” ironically lead to a certain tenuous “empowerment” of the viewer—even while acknowledging, as Sedgwick says, “the admitted double meaning by which ‘empowerment’ within a social system necessarily involves her subjection to a circulatory symbolic economy of power.” (Bert Stabler)
Through September 18 at Roxaboxen Exhibitions, 2130 West 21st Street
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