January 25-March 26, 2020
Natural History: A Half-Eaten Portrait, an Unrecognizable Landscape, a Still, Still Life will comprise a full-scale ceramic representation of Candice Lin reclining with her future cat. Lin’s monumental ceramic sculpture references the history of clay sarcophagi, specifically the Etruscan terracotta funerary sculptures from the 9th through 2nd centuries BCE, famously life-sized and often featuring a man and a woman reclining together. Renowned for their naturalistic representations of the human form, Etruscans practiced the tradition of interring the body, with animal companions or objects that held particular significance to the deceased, within a sarcophagus. Lin imagines housing her own decomposing body and that of the cat that she lives with at the time of her death within this sculptural memento mori. In addition to exploring ideas around mortality and interment, Lin’s installation considers existence and futurity from a post-human perspective by linking the longevity of clay—the life-span of fired ceramics can be thousands of years—with other organic life-cycles. Like historical sarcophagi, where the outstretched limbs of the figures would have once held vessels containing foods or precious objects, Lin’s sculpture will portray her and her cat accompanied by vessels containing preserved plants, seeds, and minerals.
Complementing the life-size sarcophagus (self-portrait of Lin and her cat), are a series of illuminated glass aquariums, set onto metal stands. Mimicking museological display cases, these vitrines house colonies of Dermestid “flesh-eating” beetles, which will consume a series of works resembling human bones. These objects have been fabricated from a commercial meat-paste substitute combined with Lin’s own dried skin and fingernails. Used in museums for cleaning bones and carcasses for display and research, these carnivorous insects have been employed by Lin to suggest an effective interspecies collaboration—a subject that underpins much of Lin’s practice. By cultivating this family of beetles, which over generations will learn to survive and thrive on this diet, Lin creates a sub-population predisposed to thrive while her own body decays. Requiring constant caretaking, and the harvesting of her own skin, these beetles serve as active reminders of our mortality.
The materials used by Lin are part of her ongoing research into the histories of colonial trade objects such as porcelain, silk, opium, abortifacient plants, poisons, and cochineal in relation to discourses around whiteness, exoticism, race, and othering. While earlier works focused on the acquisition and exploitation of non-Western botanical and biological processes, this exhibition examines the institutional framing by museums of historical artefacts and organic material—be they sarcophagi or body parts—through their collection and display technologies and by doing so reveals how these systems configure knowledge.
In 2017, Hans Baumann initiated a long-term artistic collaboration with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians to measure the disappearance of the Salton Sea from their sovereign tribal lands in the Coachella Valley. Although it is the largest body of water in California, the Salton Sea scarcely registers in the public consciousness and, when it does, it is as a miasmatic blight. By 2030, one-third of the Sea will have disappeared, leaving behind vast expanses of dusty playa contaminated by agricultural runoff and industrial effluents. These low-lying desert lands have been the homeland of the Cahuilla since time immemorial, and the future of the tribal community is inextricably linked to the future of this landscape. This collaboration is an attempt to reflect upon the complex socio-ecological dynamics responsible for the Sea’s existence and to engage with—but not intervene upon—the entropic processes of the Sea’s decline.
5 Distillations (Salton Sea) is a meditation upon time spent in these environs and an attempt to reframe the trajectory of the Sea’s collapse. At nearly 300 feet below sea level, the Salton Sea is a terrain of perpetual accumulation, its topographical confines a microcosm of our planetary future: it is a landscape of hybrid confusion in which intense ecological dysfunction is counteracted by the stubborn vitality of the biosphere. Here, rare birds nest among abandoned household appliances, and innumerable microorganisms prosper in nutrient-rich drainage canals.Stretches of shoreline are covered with the skeletal remains of tilapia from Mozambique, and verdant orchards foreground brown desert mountains. To the Western mind, these moments are unsettling because they are so comprehensively anthropogenic. This is not Nature as we conceive it, and so the Sea’s immense capacity for life is problematized and cast as dysfunctional. Yet the unbalanced ecosystem of the Salton Sea has value;it is not merely a domain of crisis. 5 Distillations (Salton Sea) presents an alternative narrative for this place: a continuum of cultural and physiographic systems with no precise origin, no definitive end and no moral connotations.