Adam Kleinman on “Sexual Ecologies”

Humans reproduce like birds and bees, the saying goes. And when it comes to that sanitized understatement, what gets lost isn’t just the queen, but a much crazier story: how bees and their flower friends are part of a vast sensual network of multispecies polyamory in which plants use bees to mate. and, in exchange, the insects get drunk on nectar. The collective exhibition “Sex Ecologies”, created by a diverse transdisciplinary team – associating the curators of the kunsthall with the Seed Box (an environmental humanities program of the University of Linköping in Sweden), at the Senegalese art center RAW Material Company and to an Advisory Board of Researchers – found a germ in discovering how bodies reproduce not through the pair male versus female alone, but also through all sorts of social encounters in which two or more entities merge out of sympathy for become something else.

Although neither bees nor birds were obviously present, the “sexual ecologies” had many worms. Anne Duk Hee Jordan’s immersive installation The Worm: earthy, fantastic and wet, 2021, encouraged visitors to explore a dark spooky room with an ultraviolet flashlight. When shone on an imaginary colony of deep-sea creature-like props, the beam sent a phosphorescent flicker back to each guest.sperm-diver. Some of these beasts, which looked like inflatable dancing tube men turned slugs in Day-Glo coats, were also lit up with psychedelic colors; at the back of this twilight chamber, the room was further lit by the glow of high definition video of flatworms, sea cucumbers and other hermaphrodite organisms injecting and impregnating each other with their sex organs detachable. In another gallery, Alberta Whittle’s video A black footprint is a beautiful thing, 2021, anchored digital collages from the 2021 “Lessons from Below” series, featuring negative photographic prints of fertility figures flanked by a pastiche of shells, corals and pearls. In the video, a rumination on what has been consumed in the Caribbean through the destructive power of epistemicide – social theorist Boaventura de Sousa Santos has used to define the process by which foreign hegemonic systems supplant indigenous knowledge, by particular social and agrarian practices – is intercut with close-ups of live worms gnawing on wood, recalling how their own voracious ancestors punched holes in the hulls of two of Columbus’s ships. Reconsidered as anti-colonial biological agents, these bivalves contribute to shifting the rhetoric of the exhibition around the different forms of procreation towards a critique of social reproduction and the genealogy of norms and customs.

In the basement of this two-storey living room was the office of Ibrahim Fazlic The tingling room, 2021, a self-contained fetish dungeon comprised of natural black latex draped with stainless steel scaffolding. A set of suspended sex swings, straps and handles formed the seat of this hidden gallery within a gallery, whose own “skin” slowly degrades upon exposure to the CO2 in every human exhale. Inside this space, audience members could listen through headphones to a story, whispered in a chilling ASMR voice, about how microplastics invade our own bodies in a slow act of reciprocity.

Collectively, the resplendent forms and queer tales contained throughout the exhibition come together to demonstrate how the division between the human and the natural is as reductive and harmful as forcing gender into two rigid categories. With respect to power relations, the show‘s most inspiring device was to question the ways in which institutions, artists and thinkers work together. “Sex Ecologies” was based on group work. For two years, the various participants met in reading groups and had long discussions. Instead of following a top-down curatorial vision, artists, curators and scholars have developed their projects – all new commissions – tangentially and in proximity. Amid apparent cross-pollination and the hybrid model of ‘sexual ecologies’, feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham’s conviction flourishes that in forging new communities of solidarity, we model new worlds. This unique experience may prove to have served future exhibitions by demonstrating how to share goals and minds in order to achieve something not just new, but extraordinary. Or, to paraphrase the bells of intimacy: if love isn’t about growing together, why do it?

Comments are closed.