Aspect/Ratio is pleased to present Petite Mort, a solo exhibition from artist Iris Bernblum and curated by Pia Singh. This is the fourth solo exhibition with Iris Bernblum at Aspect/Ratio and will center on three selections from her most recent work: Submissions; Mirror, Mirror; and Death Spiral. Upon entrance, one notices: birds penetrate the space. Traces: sound of chirping (synthetic) A small watercolor of a lying man, his head, a bird. The feral beast invades into the human body.
About one month into quarantine, Iris Bernblum began approaching individuals, via Instagram, writing, “If you’d like me to paint you, submit a photograph to me, nude, in your present circumstance, your name will not be revealed when it is made public.” It was at the point when people began losing their minds due to the ongoing, monotonous isolation. A contract was drawn between the participants and Bernblum. A concealed agreement based on mutual respect, a secret. Both parties were required to be submitted to the work. Open to their own fragility, to their shifting boundaries. Multiple photographs began pouring in, providing the source materials for paintings of mostly selfies. The monochromatic watercolors present naked figures in isolation, in domestic environments that are marked with a few sparse gestures. The bodies are treated with great care, some heads morph into a shadowed bestiality, otherwise the gazes are turned away. The result is, “submission,” a group of forty intimate virtual encounters. Here, the overt exhibitionism that the practice of naked selfies entails, has a different tone. The paintings crave the touch of others’ gaze. It is as if they—the anonymous subjects—must be painted for their own survival; as if without the viewer’s gaze, they would evaporate into the thin walls around them. The paintings scream, and cry, and laugh (in madness). The paintings howl. Two large screen prints on exposed canvases present monochromatic, grey-scaled, mirrored images. On each, a pair of bald eagles. Locked talons, suspended in the mid-swirl of a courtship dance, the birds are falling. The two prints are doubles in reverse; the dominance of sexes is in question. Caught in a “death spiral” (the name given to the mating ritual, and the title of the work), the eagles approach a climax of desire, which, at its limit, brushes against death. One ought to read death here both as metaphoric and as actual. Desire and its sibling, love, entail a momentary, if not recurring, death; a burning of one’s own identity. In love, I am burning with desire—my constitution and my boundaries are in flames. While falling (in love), you are lost, annihilated by foreign forces within yourself. An actual death. The bald eagle, a nationalistic symbol (which, by constitution, is a symbol of patriarchy and oppression), descends towards its own annihilation. There’s something delicious about it. Contemplating upon this work today, in August 2020, one should not divorce this discourse within the work from the recent advances in the dismantlement of nationalist symbols in the United States. Indeed, up to now, the targeted monuments were evident, and yet, it seems as if the work whispers a greater promise, murmuring: “what will happen when the bald eagles spiral into their death? What society can be built when groups of people choose to identify themselves not through national frames? What state will be constituted when exclusion, be it on the base of national, racial, classist, or gendered lines, is not the governing law?” by Ruslana Lichtzier.
Iris Bernblum (b. 1975) is a cross-disciplinary artist and curator who works with performative-based themes which are manifested in photography, video, drawing, installation, and sculpture. Her work challenges the boundaries of ‘human/nature’ and she lives and works in Chicago. Iris is a graduate of Columbia University where she received her MFA and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for her BFA studies. Works from Iris have been included in exhibitions at spaces including The Arts Club of Chicago, Spertus Institute, Chicago Artists Coalition, Elizabeth Foundation, The Leroy Neiman Center, and the Contemporary Arts Center Cincinnati.
Submissions, 2020, watercolor on paper, 16 x 12 in, 41 x 30.4 cm