The wearable white sculptures in Lauren Kalman’s Spectacular exhibition — which have names like “Tits,” “Scrotum,” and “Dick” — aren’t meant to be functional, but that doesn’t mean they’re uncomfortable. After all, they’re supposed to reference various forms of lingerie. Though the pieces are engorged interpretations of genitalia and other body parts, they still look fairly plausible as articles of clothing, especially when seen on a human model. “It’ doesn’t feel that much different than wearing a bra,” Kalman laughs. One piece, “Legs,” is particularly cozy. “They’re like wearing pillows.”
Kalman is trained in jewelry and metalsmithing, with a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art and an MFA at Ohio State University. Her current work, like that seen in Spectacular, includes installation, video, photography, and performance. While the clothing hangs quietly from racks placed around a gallery, there are also photos and videos of models wearing the pieces. On one, a giant testicular sack is attached to a pair of white underwear, while on another, two distended breasts sag sadly from a bra. There are a few stubby strap-ons in the collection too.
Spectacular was inspired by 19th-century images of elephantisis, a parasite that causes localized swelling in the legs and scrotum and, sometimes, in the breasts or penis. The clothing is meant to study ideals from both the male and female perspective. “What happens when that goes beyond our idea of what an ideal penis size is?” Kalman asks. “What happens when it goes beyond that and into the grotesque, when it becomes so long that it’s threatening or frightening or unfamiliar or alien?”
The piece that set off the exhibit was the inflated set of testicles. “I was playing on spectacle and testicles, the origin of it, but really the idea of the body being a spectacle in contemporary media as something to be consumed,” Kalman explains. And that meaning is multilayered: a body can be consumed in a literal, violent way, but also as a spectacle of the beautiful, and she hopes her pieces intersect those two ideas. As the exhibition grew, the pieces have veered away from specific imagery, but they are still just as intentionally silly.
At the opening of Spectacular, Kalman will host a performance, with live models wearing her work. Instead of interacting with the viewer, the women will remain static, just as they are in Kalman’s videos and photographs. This gives the audience the privilege of controlling the power dynamic. Often, their eyes are even covered. “The women, the way that I think about them, are on this anatomy stage, where you have the specimen in the center and the audience circling around,” Kalman says. “I like to think about them sort of like ballerinas in a jewelry box. They’re on tiny screens and they are this little toy or this little object that’s just there for your pleasure.”
Viewer beware: There is nudity involved. “I hope that if the audience is upset or uncomfortable, that rather than projecting it at me as the maker, that it brings them to the question, why do these things make me uncomfortable?” Kalman says. “What is it about the image or the video or the object that is unsettling? And being able to name those things allows you to recognize them in your society and your media and your culture.”
Opening event features a live jazz ensemble with Marco Frey, Nick Jenkins, and Anthony Dargan. Food and drinks from Cory’s Grilled Cheese will be available for purchase.