NEW YORK, NY.-
In the scalloped courtyard of Amant, an East Williamsburg kunsthalle, a sparkling chime cuts the rustling gray air. Its the sound of Senti (2022), by Mayra A Rodríguez Castro, a set of aluminum and silver rods mounted on the roof like a weather vane. In the synesthetic world of Siren (some poetics), this is a siren a warning, a wail, a cry for help.
It takes a moment to decipher the other work in the garden: two junkpile sculptures by Ser Serpas made with discards gleaned from the neighborhood. This patch of Brooklyn yielded a blanched patio umbrella, old school desks, some twisted metal. Like a rock, it hits you: This is the wreckage of the ships lured to shore by a monsters irresistible song.
Obliquely activist, newly timeless, Siren sounds a contemporary cri de coeur. The title recalls Homers Odyssey, but also the ambulances of March 2020, the police cars of that June; the air-raid sirens of Beirut or Kyiv. And it faces the gendered overtones of both the mythic and the modern registers of the word. Although Homer didnt describe their looks, the sirens have been portrayed for centuries as women with birds or fishes bodies, their honeyed song not only a spell but a bitter bait and switch for lovesick seamen at least until 19th-century history painters decided they were bathing beauties. Its an exhibition from the perspective of the maligned Sirens. (All but one of the 17 artists in the show identifies as a woman.)
Like the daughters of unburned witches, Siren performs the expected tricks and incantations in other words, poems. The shows curator, Quinn Latimer, also writes poetry (among other things), and so do many of the artists. Accordingly, the artists treat language as a material, such as Iris Touliatous Happiness, 2018 to 2022 (to Laurie), Vol. III, where software pushes evocative random excerpts from unread spam emails to a small screen. The text of Sardines, by Bernadette Mayer, a lauded Brooklyn-born poet, unpacks the dense symbolism of tinned fish, while each letter appears on the page color-coded according to her idiosyncratic system.
The queerer idioms of writing blending, pilfering, mistranslating coalesce in The Incomplete Poem (2015 and ongoing) by an artist duo, Shanzhai Lyric, an ever-growing collection of bootleg and otherwise garbled English-language T-shirts. Hung on a rack, like 100 pages in a book, the so-called poetry garments form a contemporary epic in the tradition of Beowulf or Xuanzang (and maybe poke fun at a project not on view by the similarly fashion-minded collective Bernadette Corporation, cheekily called The Complete Poem). Odysseus wandered a relatively confined wilderness today, language itself meanders across globalized oceans, trailing wrong-footed verse.
Meanwhile, Penelope sat at home, weaving and raveling. Hence, maybe, the prevalence of textiles here including the hanging hunter-green felt tapestry by Dena Yago, incised with the contours of rabbits from the films Bambi and Donnie Darko, or a rigginglike sculpture by Bia Davou, Untitled (Odyssey), which includes a set of four fabric sail works from the 1980s, unfurled and embroidered with selections from the Odyssey in Homers Greek. In Rivane Neuenschwanders The Silence of the Sirens (2013), a felt hanging, the words Sirens and silence mark its cream surface, the sibilant residue of a Franz Kafka passage.
Odysseus wanted to hear the Siren song and live to brag about it. He had his crew plug their ears but lash him to the mast. The recessed casts sunk into Amants walls by Patricia L. Boyd, made from crumb-speckled cooking grease, evoke the Greeks wax earplugs and are a striking marriage of the abject and the mechanical.
Siren likewise toys with the drama of attraction and repulsion: When the siren wails, do you dive toward it, or run away? For Shanzhai Lyrics Untitled (Portrait of a Siren), from 2022, three pairs of security gates like those scanning for shoplifters at Old Navy form a ring like a Neolithic monument. If the visitor has pocketed a plastic anti-theft tag from the mound in the corner of another gallery, maybe emboldened by the pieces echo of Felix Gonzalez-Torres candy piles, they trigger an eerie chord of detuned, softened alarms. Its like sailing safely past a property crime.
In a sense, the imagined grotesquerie of the Homeric Sirens was yet another way for patriarchs to repress the ambivalence of other voices. These artists claim the possibility that an incantation could be so powerful. Whats the danger here? Maybe the jagged rocks of easy metaphor. Maybe stasis. In art and poetry, ambivalence means youre still moving.
In Liliane Lijns Queen of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds (1980), big glass prisms on stacks of aluminum sheets resemble crags, lighthouses or, vaguely, figures. The queens heads flick chunks of rainbow to the wall and floors and onto other works one graces the seven blown-glass organ pipes of Katja Auflegers Sirens (Al Wakra Vol. III), from 2019, tuned to the pitches of Qatars singing dunes and played by a motorized pump. The instrument exhales a low, forlorn hoot an artists re-creation of the sound the wind-borne sand makes in a special stretch of desert, whether anyones listening or not.
Siren (some poetics)
Through March 5 at Amant, 315 Maujer St., Brooklyn, amant.org.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times