Art Out: Violence and Victimhood Panel
By Kala Herh
“Being a victim was what I was, and being a survivor was what I learned to become,” said Emma Sulkowicz at the Petzel Gallery earlier this month.
What is the definition of a victim? Can one weaponize victimhood? And further, is that definition hinged on external factors — race, gender, sexual orientation? Dana Hoey tries to unpack this primal notion of violence in her new exhibit, Dana Hoey Presents.
The Petzel Gallery presents the para-fictional exhibition that features photographic work by Hoey, who herself is a seasoned fighter, and sculpture work of Marcela Torres, a Muay Thai specialist. “I invited Marcela Torres to be in this show because her work intersects with mine in dynamic ways,” Hoey explains. “She is first and foremost a performance artist who directly visualizes and attacks the currents of power acting on her queer brown body.”
The exhibition squared off with Violence and Victimhood: a panel featuring Nona Faustine, a racial and gender-focused photographer and graduate of The School of Visual Arts; Emma Sulkowicz, a performance artist who first received media attention for “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)”; and Sarah Schulman, a writer whose literary works deals with everything from politics to theater. Wearing a flowing, midi red-green dress, Hoey moves with ease and a degree of assertiveness around her large boxing ring in front of a shadowboxing stop-action photograph. With the enormity of the 14’ wall-to-wall photographs of World Champion Alicia “Slick” Ashley, Hoey is effective in demonstrating the seemingly contradictory continual, yet frozen state of motion of fighting. The presence of both uncompromising grace and bullish intensity is evident. There is also an inherent duality to her work. She pushes the narrative that movement professionals can be in the gym and be seen solely for their movement, and once they get out of their clothes and go into the street they soon have racial, gender and class perceptions thrust upon them.
After a deafening ring of the fight bell, the discussion begins. To answer the question posed above, Nona Faustine reflects, “You can weaponize victimhood. But ultimately that’s not the issue. Victimhood and the ability to use it shows you who has the power.” The recurring theme of the panel is of the importance of understanding violence conceptually (despite the obstacles diverse backgrounds pose) is crucial to changing the understanding of it in the real world. This sentiment physicalized in Hoey’s own work, Target Cipher. These ciphered people — made by laser-cut pieces of stainless steel — act as shooting range targets, without race and face. Here, Hoey advances the symbolic paradigm that exists as the ciphers provide a standard for comparison. She makes us aware of this subconscious, instantaneous process our minds go through in making assumptions and in tandem, challenge this procedure. There exists a certain magnetic quality of Hoey’s cipher people. They are visually attractive, alluring, while still effusing a sense of elusiveness.
A quick note on the exhibition itself: Hoey utilizes photography’s innate tendency to blur the line between fact and fiction in order to interrogate the social roles that race, gender, class play in shaping perceptions. By staging the exhibition in a gym-environment, she mocks up a free space in which people from all different viewpoints and backgrounds come under the same roof and have the ability to spar on current events.
Hoey challenges and confronts preconceived ideas and realities of racial relations, feminism, and combat. It is an extremely daunting and enormous task to pursue; however, Hoey with the help of her heavy-hitting artists put their hats in the ring to advance the conversation.
Dana Hoey Presents
June 27 – August 2, 2019
456 W 18th Street