BY David Everitt Howe in Reviews | 16 OCT 20

Cajsa von Zeipel’s Campy Dystopia

At COMPANY, New York, the artist presents nine, larger-than-life-size silicone figures, clad in the capitalist filth of a not-so-distant future

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BY David Everitt Howe in Reviews | 16 OCT 20

Taking its title from a 1968 Ursula K. Le Guin sci-fi novella about a group of clones so mutually connected as to have no autonomy, Cajsa von Zeipel’s ‘Nine Lives’ at Company features larger-than-life-size, silicone figures so ugly and irritating, it’s difficult to describe their curious appeal. The whole exhibition is apocalyptic, as if the artist blew up the tackiest, most run-down shopping mall in American suburbia, dumped its rubble of consumer goods into a fantastical machine that turned things like fake flowers and glass marijuana pipes into super-human, super-sexualized beings, and then had cam sex with them, replete with the most up-to-date filters. Walking around these nine, hyper-realistic creatures, I half expected Diva Plavalaguna, the alien opera singer from The Fifth Element (1997), to appear and launch into a shrill, cyborg aria.

Cajsa von Zeipel, Aqua Aura, 2020, pigmented silicon, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and COMPANY Gallery, New York
Cajsa von Zeipel, Aqua Aura, 2020, pigmented silicon, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and COMPANY Gallery, New York

Sadly, that’s not part of the show, but there is a woman – nude save for a headband magnifier and a strappy belt holding a purple lava lamp at her hip – covered in a clear, viscous substance and studded all over with a sequence of pearls, leaning back in pleasure as an androgynous figure next to her licks her nipple, goo dripping from their lips. The two subjects in Aqua Aura (all works 2020) are precariously perched on what looks like a camo-print cat post, with the ‘licker’ wearing baggy athleisure. A mobile phone hangs from one of their pockets, while various objects sitting at the base of the sculpture – a mauve scooter, a flimsy marker organizer, a water bottle full of a pink, syrupy liquid and something indecipherable – speak to an almost obsessive amassment of materials, what Guy Debord described in The Society of the Spectacle (1967) as ‘capital to such a degree of accumulation that it becomes an image’ ruling over all lived experience. 

This almost-cancerous accumulation continues throughout. In the back of the gallery, What the Heel is impressive for the way its objects are agglomerated to create a superstructure of things hoarded – all so that Von Zeipel’s terrifying, Arctic-blonde silicone dame can type on her partly melted, early 2000s Microsoft keyboard. She’s sitting on a globe with a seat attached, while a kitchen sink inset into an upholstered disc spills into a carpet-covered baby carrier on wheels. An adjacent sculpture, I Brake for Trees, brings this clusterfuck to the next level, with a bunch of nearly unrecognizable products sutured into each other like Frankenstein’s monster. 

Cajsa von Zeipel, What the Heel, 2020, pigmented silicon, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and COMPANY Gallery, New York
Cajsa von Zeipel, What the Heel, 2020, pigmented silicon, mixed media, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and COMPANY Gallery, New York

The show's gags and visual puns can be self-conscious and heavy-handed. (Note the encircling wallpaper printed with phrases like ‘stinky butt’ and ‘I LOVE U’ in vintage computer fonts, or ‘COMPANY’ tattooed on one of the silicone doyenne’s faces, in a nod to the gallery-as-store, which is a critique that’s as novel as a paper plate.) More interesting is the sheer ridiculousness of the work – the fabulous, big-boobed woman doing an upside-down trapeze act from the ceiling in Catch and Kill, for instance – which lends itself to an enjoyable camp sensibility, a ‘love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration’, as Susan Sontag famously defined it in her 1964 essay ‘Notes on Camp’. However, such feats of spectacle don’t hide the fact that, in the words of the press release, Von Zeipel’s ‘futures […] made out of the fragments’ seem literally slapped together, not only in execution but in concept. The artist’s ominous evocations of a dystopian capitalist future seem almost old-fashioned at this point. I wish she had used her incredible talents to craft something truly different and strange – a vision of new identities we haven’t seen before. 

Cajsa von Zeipel, ‘Nine Lives’ runs at COMPANY, New York until 31 October 2020.

Main Image: Cajsa von Zeipel, 'Nine Lives', installation view. Courtesy: the artist and COMPANY Gallery, New York

David Everitt Howe is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn. He is currently Curator/Editor at Pioneer Works and is a contributing editor at BOMB magazine. 

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