By Blair Murphy

Intimacy refers most often to close human relationships, describing the physical closeness, emotional bonds, or personal knowledge between individuals or tight-knit groups. Strange Bedfellows begins at this point and expands outward, exploring the ways relationships with others—whether physical, emotional, intellectual, or structural—impact our individual identities, public interactions, and civic life. 

While the body might seem to be a solid starting point for an exploration of intimate relationships, it isn’t necessarily so straightforward. The human body is fascinating, but terrifying, driven by inner workings even medical science can’t always explain. Stephanie Williams’ mixed media sculpture, Untitled (hopeless self-edit) plays with this simultaneous allure and repulsion, featuring bright colors and tactile materials that draw in the viewer. Yet the work verges on monstrous, an overwhelming corporeality that is both familiar and grotesque. 

Stephanie Williams, Untitled (hopeless self-edit), 2014. Mixed media. 96 x 96 x 48 inches.

Approaching the body clinically, Benjamin Kelley’s Foramen Magnum is named for a hole at the base of the skull that allows the spinal cord, among other crucial pathways, to enter the brain. As the artist states, the foramen magnum acts as “a gateway from the physical to the metaphysical chambers. ” The work features several small instruments, nestled in a shatterproof case, designed to measure and document the size of this portal. But what could we learn about a person by measuring this existential gateway? While the objects reference a scientific objectivity, the work undermines its own claims to pure reason by evoking the 19th century pseudoscience of phrenology, while also pointing to the fragility of the body and its vulnerability to violence.

Benjamin Kelley, Foramen Magnum, 2013. Pelican 1200 case, rubber, gigli saw, inside calipers, scapel, clipboard, and paint, 4.87 x 10.62 x 9.68 inches (closed).

A. Moon’s One Storey introduces two figures whose movement through space, and past one another, suggest alluringly disembodied subjects. Gender, the singular axis of difference that defines heterosexual romance, is displaced by amorphous identities that register desire through shifting moments of difference and identification. Can they navigate the physical, linguistic, and cultural differences that separate them in order to solidify their relationship? Would this merger be ecstatic or banal? “If we ever consent to be in love,” the narrator states, “I promise I will find more singular ways to signify my desire and your desirability.” 

Starting with an alluringly solid substance, Sebastian Martorana’s His, Hers, & Ours creates a physical portrait of a relationship, frozen in time. The lushness of the sculpted marble evokes a tactile pleasure; knowledge of the material’s weight makes its seemingly effortless suspension all the more impressive. Jennifer Levonian’s video, Rebellious Bird, also depicts a more clearly defined couple, but highlights the way these two individuals exist within a network of outside relationships, depicted in the video by overlapping narratives that transcend physical distances and historical time. 

Sebastian Martorana, Yours, Mine, Ours, 2010. Italian Carra marble, 36 x 60 x 8 inches.

Networks of non-interaction are the focus of Ingrid Burrington’s Center for Missed Connections. While the missed connection advertisement wasn’t created by digital culture the format is especially well suited to it, providing a platform for real bodies that miss one another in physical space to reconnect (or at least attempt reconnection) online. The figures in Jenny Walton’s Singles Faire series also find themselves moving in close proximity to and yet past one another. The figures occupy their shared spaces awkwardly, enacting a set of rote poses. There’s an expected pattern and behavior they’re enacting, a set of movements they can’t seem to avoid. The proscribed behaviors and assumptions that shape our personal lives are highlighted in Leslie Holt’s Help Yourself series. The hand-painted and embroidered canvases mimic the covers of popular self-help literature from the heyday of the genre, bringing a handcrafted aesthetic to an industry that attempts to mass-market solutions to ostensibly personal problems.

Ingrid Burrington, CMC Citizen's Handbook and Field Guide, 2010. Installation view.

Intimacy is mediated through similarly material, if more handcrafted, methods in Jacob Rhodes Candy Skins project. The Candy Skins are a fictional subculture, made manifest through the production of ‘zines, album covers, and quilts, like those included in Strange Bedfellows. The group is, like any subculture, defined by shared codes of language, behavior, and dress, including a heightened focus on craft. Not content to construct their style from existing sources, the fictional Candy Skins obsessively produce their own clothing and other material goods. These objects become a stand in for other forms of intimacy, as the disruptive, queer desires that haunt these hypermasculine, homosocial relations are displaced through a hyper-fetishization of fashion and dress.

Jacob Rhodes, Drunkards Path, 2013. Nylon, gigham, and embroidery floss, 85 x 80 inches.

The mediation of relationships by cultural objects resonates with Strike Two, Dustin Nelson’s update of Strike, Sergei Eisenstein’s first feature film. While Eisenstein celebrated the montage’s ability to heighten meaning, Nelson replaces Eisenstein’s visuals and arresting edits with narration. The viewer of Strike Two relies on Nelson himself to dictate the action on screen, watching and recounting the movement in the film as it takes place. Further exploring the mediated creation of knowledge, The Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum, asks how the preservation of spaces and objects communicate knowledge about other times and places. An official member of the American Consortium of Living History Museums, the museum offers visiting hours (by appointment), a K-12 curriculum, and an audio tour, in order to provide visitors with an authoritative portrait of the life of its founder, artist Bean Gilsdorf. 

Bean Gilsdorf, The Bean Gilsdorf Living History Museum Artifacts, 2014. Books, time-travel pills, mug, and furniture, dimensions variable.

Historical objects play a key role in Katie Hargrave’s My Ronald Reagan Collection, as she recounts the circumstances that led her to possess two souvenirs of our 40th president— a dining room table given as a wedding gift to her grandparents by Nancy Reagan’s parents and a pack of cigarettes from the Reagan White House. The objects, acquired by accident and chance, come to represent her feelings towards Reagan himself, a figure whose political legacy she detests but finds herself living with, regardless. Though they never met, he’s a permanent presence in her life, a relationship that’s unwanted but unavoidable.

From the corporeal realities of the human form to the broad decisions that impact our civic and political institutions, we constantly define (and re-define) ourselves in relation to others. While these relationships may not always fit within our conventional expectations of intimacy, the consequences they bring to bear on our lives suggest they could all be considered worthy of the term. 

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November 13, 2014