Text by Florencia Malbrán
A woman plunges forward. Her weight, suspended, as her body reaches a diagonal position, upheld by a latex surface affixed to a wall. How much longer will the thin sheet that prevents her fall hold? Does she want to let go, release her grip? These questions arise when beholding Elena Dahn's performance in New Bodies -her first solo show in New York. Dahn is one of the most original artists of her generation, a relentless researcher.
Why has she put her body in a state of tension, with gravity pulling it down and -at the same time- latex pulling it in the opposite direction? The “motion” of this tensed body engages us as viewers evoking our “emotion:” it is impossible not to think of the stirring expectations caused by a birth, a germination, or a chrysalis.
The notion of becoming is central to Dahn’s work. She explores modes...of transformation, mutation, metamorphosis. The terms “force,” “rupture,” and “opening” describe the changes that occur to the material that she employs, latex, on a physical level. But these very same terms also serve to think about shifts on the plane of subjectivity, an integral interest to Dahn. She invites us to reconsider our understanding of matter, biology, and corporeality. The title of this exhibition also relates to idea of becoming: New Bodies. Latex, once part of the body of trees, is reincarnated in Dahn’s performance, signaling a chain of connections and mutations.
Dahn tears, breaks through layers, stretches, plays with uncertainty, and creates new balances. Latex allows her all of these actions. First, she uses it in a liquid state: she paints several coats of latex on the wall or on paper. Then she uses it in a solid state: once it has dried, she pulls the elastic mass, cuts it, rolls it, ties it, and produces cavities that she inflates or deflates. In this way, she creates works that are neither painting nor sculpture and do not fit easily into any traditional medium. Dahn also conjures up a combination of flexibility and rigidity -an absurd, unsettling synthesis that subverts the usual logical oppositions.
Dahn's works are neither figurative nor completely abstract. The protrusions of latex suggest breasts, and certain indentations could be perceived as lips, wombs, or vaginas. Even in the artworks in which the expression of these organic images is absent, the body is still present. Each of Dahn's works is constituted by the marks left by the artist when she created them: the latex exhibits her traces and bears witness to her female body.
In earlier works, Dahn employed plaster. She would apply it in reliefs on walls, or cast it in self-supporting sculptures or dropped it on sheets of paper. She created formless forms that resembled organs, natural elements, and that did not hide the process of their making. Spills, drips, and scratches, on sight, revealed the experimental and uncertain nature of the emergence of the works themselves. Dahn could never know in advance what would happen when producing her works, so change and duration gained prominence.
When Dahn discusses her interests, she mentions her attraction to dance yet emphasizes that, more than dance itself,she is drawn to photographs depicting dancers in motion. Those shots of dancers performing involve a contradiction: movement is frozen in time only to convey its dynamism. Much like the paradox at play in the photographs, Dahn aims, in her own work, to reconcile stillness and movement. Another of her interests is researching how artists have experimented with fabrication techniques, particularly how they have managed to avoid any solid core when articulating their works. This interest follows in the wake of artists such as Eva Hesse, Lygia Pape, and Lygia Clark. Dahn’s fascination with the refusal of fixed structures led her as well to the work of Jean Arp. She saw that Arp's sculptures -through their curves and bellies- encourage the believe that there is an internal force moving them, despite being made of inert, inorganic matter. Dahn is in search of the same inner pulse and the expression of the fluid of experience. Hence the energy, at once powerful and repressed, that animates her works.
Entrada actualizada el el 30 nov de 2023
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