“Oozing” bodies: ‘Tender Rip’ at Auto Italia, a collaborative project by Anna McMahon and Spence Messih

“Spilling, spitting is a recurrent concept in our thought. Images ripple our minds such as a bathtub in an earthquake; a swathe of fabrics off a balcony, strewn upon the translucent lower canopy of a new building; some titanic sequence that “everyone” is party to. The darker mark seeps as bed wetting, one side of the springy mattress, discharge. Spilling and spitting are forms of expulsion that are both incidental and violent. Sneezing is like spitting, to find the goob on the wall a few days later, caked over. Not a stain exactly, not like old blu-tack. Tender rip. Rear guard. Glass must be hot to stain, it is not water. And then the question of sediment. And then the question of whales. A shooting vertical breath. This ejaculation which is not one. Skin moves up and then down again, as if by design.” 

Text by Vincent Silk and Ainslie Templeton accompanying the exhibition

Tender Rip’, running until 16 June at Auto Italia in Bethnal Green, is a collaborative project envisioned by artists Anna McMahon and Spence Messih, tackling the symbiotic relationship between bodies and language by highlighting “the slippery process of coding and classifying both”.

As McMahon and Messih say, the exhibition asks what it means “to wilfully occupy the slippery site around inclusion and exclusion- surfacing ideas of absorption and proliferation, opacity and readability”.

The project stemmed from the desire of “mobilising the site of the stain”: stain as a movable and metaphorical entity and as a tool of resistance. Bodies are inextricably bound to language, who is “used as a tool to classify, define and regulate bodies and identities but it can also be mobilised as a tactic to reclaim, reinvent and resist”.

The site-specific installation functions as a receptacle for containing readings from others, with works from Jos Charles, Brian Fuata, Real Madrid, Vincent Silk, and Ainslie Templeton.

Spence Messih, ‘Wet things dry, dry things get wet‘, 2019, Stained glass.
Courtesy: Auto Italia. Ph: Rob Harris

Wet things dry, dry things get wet‘ (2019) is a stained-glass diptych by Spence Messih, which features a non-identical blue dew ooze referring to notions of power structures, sites of pressure and opacity. As we can see from above, the perception of the piece is left uncertain, whether it could be read as a healing mist or as a menacing fog.

The choice of a minimalist aesthetic is used to explore abstraction as a window to the artist’s trans identity.

The second work on display by Messih is ‘Hard things soften, soft things get hard (2019)’, a series of steel bench-like forms, which looks at the tactile and emotional properties of materials historically associated with abstraction and minimalism.

” I was thinking about people sitting and waiting/watching together for too long … repeating, resisting … eventually bending and breaking forms”, says Messih

Anna McMahon, ‘Of doubts and dreams‘, 2019,  Electric hoists, leather, cocktail fountain, baby’s breath (gypsophila), powdered milk, chain, cotton t-shirt, finger condoms, cock rings, bespoke handkerchief, nipple clamp with chain, weight, crystal bowl, English soft set honey, chair, trainers, human hair.
Courtesy: Auto Italia. Ph: Rob Harris

Anna McMahon ‘s sculptural work ‘Of doubts and dreams’ (2019) is made up of three electric hoists, similar to the one 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 a farm when McMahon was four.  The artist aims to represent here “how these memories/smells from this moment have translated into her own adult life”.

The work encourages a reading in terms of “slaughter/pain/pleasure/anticipation coupled with readings of BDSM/harnessing/restraint/resilience/holding back/going forward”.

McMahon focuses on the oozing process of tunnels and stains. Behind the moving hoists at the back of the room is a cocktail fountain filled with powdered milk. This element provides an element of softness and serves as a counterpoint to the other sexually explicit, more “brutal” materials such as chains and cock rings.

Real Madrid ‘Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stoned’ , 2018, glass.
Courtesy: Auto Italia Ph: Manuela Barczewski

To conclude, Real Madrid is an artist collective founded in 2015 by Bianca Benenti Oriol and Marco Pezzotta as a “platform for collaboration focusing on identities in development, local narratives, and queer sexuality”.

Melding installation art with a collaborative textual practice, Real Madrid posits questions regarding authorship, appropriation, identity-through-branding and contemporary masculinities.

Borrowing forms from various pop cultures, their work talks to sexual health including references to drugs and chemical products. For ‘Tender Rip‘, the piece ‘Some Days are Diamonds, Some Days are Stoned‘ (2018) alludes to the cartoon ‘Once upon a time in life’, developed at the end of the 80s for kids to learn about the human body.

Here is the text for the piece:

“Regional genetical diseases symbolically certify the provenance of individuals, rooting them to a territory. Fearing isolation, some southern European infected with AIDS hid their syndrome claiming to have Mediterranean Anemia, dressing a medical status with the extra virginity of local olive oil. Venereal diseases also used to identify certain social groups, drawing them like in a territorial identity, closer to each other.

White and red blood cells orchestrate a caprese salad carrying little back- packs of oxigen, like stoned teenagers hiding bags of weed, swearing it is oregano.”

These facts point to explaining the choice of the oxymoronic title ‘Tender Rip‘, which can allude both to the complexities of the biological make-up and to the idea that bodies retain elements of softness and strength.

Tender rip is running at AutoItalia until June 16th, open Thursday to Sunday 12-5pm. Check website, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram for more info and events.

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