Published on ocula, 7 November 2017
Independent curator Piper Marshall’s career has followed a quick upward trajectory since landing a job as a curator with the Swiss Institute in 2008. After six years with the institute she left to pursue freelance projects, leading to her recruitment by Mary Boone in 2014 to curate six shows—later extended to twelve—for the gallerist’s uptown and downtown New York City spaces. The post included solo exhibitions for Ericka Beckman, Judith Bernstein, Ryan McNamara and John Miller. Marshall has negotiated her own space in the curatorial field with shows that are both intelligent and humorous, straddling both the academic and commercial art worlds, and has demonstrated a commitment to strong female artists with later exhibitions also featuring Sadie Benning and Silke Otto-Knapp.
Following on from her curation of the 2017 A.I.R. Gallery Biennial earlier this year, Marshall was in Hong Kong recently for the opening of her curated group show, Trip of the Tongue. Her first show at Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong features works by five artists, including charcoal text work inspired by graffiti found in public restrooms by feminist artist Judith Bernstein, abstract paintings by Torey Thornton, graphic photos of dentistry and mouths by Torbjørn Rødland and an installation of a dental phantom by Elaine Cameron-Weir.
The exhibition—whose title is derived from a deliberate mistranslation of the common English phrase, ‘slip of the tongue’—includes works that navigate language, representation and the ‘gesture of mark-making’. Indeed, several of the artists have used language as the starting point for previous works and solo exhibitions. Earlier in 2017, Ida Ekblad mounted an exhibition, Diary of a Madam, that explored the word ‘madam’—an honorific that is used both for sexualising (the owner of a brothel) and infantalising (in reference to a bossy young girl). His gestural paintings revel in mark-making and play with inscription. Then there is Torey Thornton whose paintings bear absurdist titles like Swamp Pee Fem Shreck(2015), or his 2015 exhibition title Kneed a Sea Ware Groin. Like his titles, the paintings are a cryptic assemblage of shapes and graffiti-like marks. Judith Bernstein—founding member of A.I.R. Gallery (the first artist-run, not-for-profit gallery in the United States dedicated to showing female artists) and active in such important feminist movements as Guerrilla Girls in the 1980s—is renowned for work that plays with phallic words and imagery, more recently reclaiming the taboo word ‘cunt’.
Marshall briefly chats to us about her curatorial practice and her recent Simon Lee exhibition.
What drew you to curatorial practice?
Curatorial practice serves as a means to articulate a conversation with artists and artists in space.
How would you describe your approach to feminism and the representation of women artists in your curated shows?
Feminism is not limited to the representation of female-identified artists within an exhibition. It concerns an approach to group shows that is conceptually sound and offers a means of asking questions with particular attention to bodies and care for them.
Do you have particular curatorial interests you want to explore?
I am currently working on a group exhibition that brings together a diffuse group of young artists who began a common inquiry to exhibit works that question the material possibilities of the object. The works themselves refract—shifting attention away from the artist—to how manufacture and infrastructure integrally shapes meaning.
Who are some young artists whose work and practice interest you at the moment?
Mitchell Anderson, Bunny Rogers, Eric Mack, K.r.m. Mooney, Nina Chanel Abney.
Tell me a little about your recent Simon Lee exhibition Trip of the Tongue. What is the premise of the exhibition?
The exhibition title stems from a conflation of two idiomatic phrases: ‘tip of the tongue’—which refers to a word or thought that is just out of reach—and ‘slip of the tongue’—which refers to when a thought is let out unexpectedly. Communication—how it is trained, disciplined—and the itinerary between sensing and understanding is integral to the works in this exhibition.
How did you select the works? Have you worked with these artists before?
The inclusion of Judith Bernstein, Torbjørn Rødland and Ida Ekblad came from a continued conversation. The work of artists such as Torey Thornton and Elaine Cameron-Weir was included based on research and their strong institutional presentations.
There’s a surprising sensual olfactory component of this exhibition. Before you even see any of the works you are led into the space by a spicy woody scent, only to be confronted with a dental phantom cyborg and graphic photos of dental work. There’s a tension between the sensual and the abject, the physical and the psychic, the textual and the visual in this exhibition. It seems to be an exhibition about binaries. Can you comment on this?
I read the abject as describing a particular sentient experience where the body is confronted with its limitation and the collapse of its boundary. This comes from sense as thought to be embodied. Once senses lie within the body—as scholars of the 19th century have shown—they can be trained, annexed and controlled by external manipulation. The qualities you mention such as the physical and the psychic exist in a continuum; each of these artworks tease out an aspect of that fluid process.
Can you talk about your curatorial role for A.I.R. Gallery Biennial earlier this year? What were some of the curatorial discourses and themes you were exploring?
I curated the exhibition with Lola Kramer. The A.I.R. Gallery Biennial is application-based, and we began with a series of the question before choosing a thematic. Some of these questions were informed by the notion of intersectionality, such as, which bodies would be solicited for applications and how? As well as, what is revealed when recent convulsions in gender politics rub up against static definitions of feminism?
What else are you working on at the moment?
Currently I’m finishing the proposal for my dissertation at Columbia University. In November I will open an exhibition of Nina Chanel Abney at Mary Boone Gallery. Next year I am a curatorial correspondent for FRONT International: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art.