‘Bodies and Situations’ featured a selection of work by New Zealand-born, Berlin-based Alicia Frankovich. With a background in competitive gymnastics, which forms a research base for the artist, Frankovich creates sculptures, performances and photographs that reflect on the body’s range, its failures and its movement as both a metaphor and a motif in relation to social and psychic constraints.
In this show, Frankovich highlighted the collisions that occur when the body is positioned within instructive or containing paradigms, examining the latent socio-personal machinations that are laid bare by these moments of friction. Her 35mm film Volution (2011) uses a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s iconic City Lights (1931) as a starting point to explore instinctual interpersonal responses between strangers within a public space. A scene in City Lights features an umpire who becomes enmeshed with his boxers and together they intertwine in a slapstick dance battle. Frankovich improvizes on this sequence, casting herself as the referee, and she and the two other participants dodge one another, instinctively tilting and falling in a rotating analogy of social interaction. With the artist as antagonist, they fall and rise in a muted tussle that is imbued with social codes and graces – as one falls another lifts, as one encloses, the other opens. Volution is typical of Frankovich’s tendency to create experimental contexts in which to employ emblematic and analogous objects, movements and situations as abbreviated stand-ins for the body. These experiments have given the artist a nomenclature of bodily notations and symbols that allows her to articulate intangible human impulses and essences. In the past these abbreviated ‘bodies’ have included vast upside-down hanging gardens (Medea, 2010) in a discussion of misplaced fecundity, and strands of neon and shards of cloth (Running Martingale, 2010) as an exploration of the constrained body.
Frankovich’s most recent sculptural work, Man on the Moon (2012), features a large circular photographic reflector that is attached to a motor and suspended from the ceiling. The motor rotates, rocking the silver disc in a rhythmic metronome movement that emits a loud clang with each motion. Human in scale and suggestive of a performer’s blank reflective veneer, the sculpture sways like a showgirl stuck on a loop, repeatedly calling attention to its luminous reflective surface. Like the sense of containment that pervades the toppling, overbalanced shadow boxing in Volution, this work suggests a world where the body is rigorously tested and extended – invited to fall freely, only to be abruptly contained.
A sense of the contained body, where natural reflexes are thwarted and channelled, is again evident in Jumping Guy (2011–ongoing). For this action, a man was instructed to perform a choreographed jumping action adjacent to the projection of Volution at the exhibition’s opening. The presence of a muscular figure physically constraining and releasing his muscles epitomized the same relentless rocking of Man on the Moon, and the fall and catch of Volution, reiterating a sense of the contained body.
Occupying Starkwhite’s small back room, the video Genet Piece (2010) presented a flipside to the frustrated, constrained body. Frankovich draws on a scene from Jean Genet’s film Un Chant d’Amour (A Song of Love, 1950) where the protagonist dances alone in his prison cell, imagining that he moves with a lover. Rotating slowly, Frankovich’s actor dances, with his pelvis slightly tilted in a subtle seduction of his imaginary partner. The pressure of his boots as they press on squeaky floorboards provides a close and personal soundtrack, encouraging the viewer to move into the actor’s space becoming contained within his dance. Anchored by this sexual closeness, the sense of containment can be read as intimacy rather than restriction, and the body’s release, whether real or imagined, feels imminent.