artist / participant
Anna Uddenberg / Pelvic Trust
11.04.2017-01.07.2017 Gaga, Mexico
When I first saw Anna Uddenberg’s sculpture of a body entangled like a pretzel, a yoga posture came to mind. The pose entails putting your feet behind your head and your hands wrapped around your body, holding them together behind your butt. This posture seems almost impossible to do yet the challenge of achieving it makes it super desirable. It seems once you are in it, it is not very comfortable, yet for yogis this is actually a sleeping pose because it provides a deep state of peaceful relaxation. This tension, between relaxation and the anxiety it evokes, comfort while wrapped as a pretzel, crystalizes perfectly how hegemonic ideas of gender and class work within us, specially concerning femininity and its relation to neoliberal ideologies.
For someone less flexible and not having dedicated her life to a spiritual practice, like yoga, this pose will require a lot of labor. This labor speaks to me about the naturalization of the ideologies of gender. Yoga poses should look as if they are easy to do. We are supposed to just relax in them. Similarly, looking sexy and feminine should appear natural and effortless. Calm and cozy makes evident the invisible labor and sexualized spirituality we are trapped into. It precisely makes evident the tensions between the mental expectations we have of our own bodies and the fantasies of what we should achieve and actually can achieve. Of course, these expectations although presented as free, are meditated by hegemonic discourses of what it is to inhabit a certain gender, sex, and class.
Like this pose, the sculptures in this show evoked in me a feeling of entrapment, a self-imposed one. To me, they represent how a mental block looks like, a mind trapped in itself. Trying to do a handstand in high heels sustained by a wall of water. Or trying to sustain yourself with your arms and elbows, stuck, trying not to fall full face, yet effortlessly trapped in a cat-like house structure. The sculptures sustain themselves relaxed in an awkward position, they are “cozy on steroids”, as Anna says. And that is precisely how gender works. Femininity can be a self-imposed entrapment in which we are, in our everyday life, constantly negotiating within ourselves hegemonic social conventions and ideologies on gender.
Anna’s sculptures are gendered and highly sexualized but to me, more than problematizing the figure of women, they are destabilizing femininity. It is easy to read the bodies’ physique, as those of a hyper-femme, but it is rather the signifiers that let the viewer know that it is femininity what is being challenged. The signifiers of femininity are clear: the long acrylic nails, the long hair, the pink tones, and the hyper sexualization of certain body parts. But the materialization of sex is left to the spectator, like this we could assume the sculptures are those of hyper sexualized women but I like to think it is femininity what is being questioned.
Calm and cozy, Disconnect and the other two sculptures in the show make evident the inner struggle of enacting the strictly enforced rules of normative femininity. Through an affective reaction to the sculptures, feeling attracted and confused actually even almost repelled, the figures work as a reflection of how it feels “having to be” versus “wanting to be” in a neoliberal context. That is to say, having and expected to be spiritual yet sexy, independent and financially capable.
The rigidity of the poses contrast with the materials in which they rest. Actually one could see the structures in which the bodies rest as part of the sculpture. Calm and cozy is performing the yogi sleep pose relaxing on top of a rigid chair covered in different sorts of carpets, rugs and car mat pieces. The organic wavy shapes of the structures mirror the curves of the bodies in tension. These wavy and organic features of the bodies and structures invite us in, but there is something tense we need to work through to relax. Anna Uddenberg’s Pelvic Trust captures perfectly how difficult it is to embody gender and class, how it is to negotiate hegemonic narratives and our own desires, and how to know the difference.
Disconnect is covered in a collage of a corporate-like beige carpet as well as car mat fragments in institutional green tones. These materials not only contribute to the contrast between comfort and relaxation versus rigidity and stiffness but further tell a story of class, taste and anxiety. In the middle there is a liquefying filter of water that runs floor through celling plunging us to a feeling of relaxation that is almost impossible to achieve. The whole experience of the show is further framed through walking on a fake marble ceramic floor, bringing the experience closer to a corporate anxious feeling. We are entering a middle class aspirational condo. We are at the same time in a corporation, waiting on the living room with secretaries for an appointment. We are somewhere we have never been in, yet we feel comfortable and rigid. Pelvic Trust, works as a way of showing how there is nothing natural or essential about gender, yet the rules on how to enact femininity are internalized to a point of thinking they are necessary. Class is shown at its most repellent and attractive aspirational side confronting us with the idea of necessities versus desires.
Pelvic Trust brings us to a place that is very difficult to achieve, but we want to get there, yet it is somehow uncomfortable to be in it. We are thrust, like gender and class, into a constructed identity in which we didn’t know we were performing a mode of creed. Enjoy the sweet discomfort.
Susana Vargas Cervantes