How do radical ambitions of “self-care” persist or depart from capitalist society’s preoccupation with wellness and the industry surrounding it, particularly when filtered through technological advances? How can we imagine personal wellness that complicates or diverges from capitalist and consumerist tendencies? Taking its name from the common valediction, which is both an expression of familiarity and an instruction of caution, take care, is a group exhibition that considers the many tensions surrounding the possibilities of self-care.
Long before it was a popular hashtag, self-care emerged from twentieth-century social justice movements. To take care of oneself correlated to the greater health of a community, an urgent issue in the face of widespread inequality and violence. As Audre Lorde famously stated, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” More recently, the term “self-care” has been commercially co-opted to sell products like spa treatments and skin cream. Further, bodies are thoroughly quantified with tracking devices, habits are caught up in cycles of accelerated production, and self-regulation exists in tandem with complex algorithmic processes that profit from individual surveillance. In order to ask what “self-care” means given this current scenario, take care, simultaneously looks back at potent activist histories and forward into speculative futures.
Some works in the exhibition explore normalizing conceptions of health and oppressive systems of diagnosis. For instance, Amanda Vincelli’s REGIMEN (2015–17) began from a survey of the medicinal regimens of one hundred women, aged 21 to 35, in New York, Amsterdam, London, Montreal, and Los Angeles. Vincelli took portraits of the participants and their medications (if applicable), which in the finished piece are accompanied by oral and written testimonies. A dedicated website, featured at gas.gallery, presents all of this documentation together, while inside the gallery visitors can sit comfortably and listen to the testimonies. In part, the project reflects on how the health industry specifically targets certain demographics, and the ramifications of this in terms of consumption, self-image, mental health, and so on for those groups.
Darya Diamond’s Arterial Line (16E001-007) (2017) similarly attempts to take stock of the medical industry’s machinations; it derives from Diamond’s own personal experiences with the medical industry. The sculpture is a row of emergency call buttons typically found bedside in hospital rooms, cast in polyurethane resin. The artist casts medical equipment in an effort to speak back to the biopolitical structures informing the development and creation of these objects. Diamond also creates a custom cataloguing system for all of her works, a move that mimics the archiving and tracking of the body through these spaces.
In a suite of new commissions for take care, Ian James pivots toward a near future in order to envision how market forces collide with an understanding of well-being. A car sunshade, a photo-sculpture, and a car air freshener serve as a mini-campaign obliquely advertising imaginary products. Applying techniques of commercial photography, and channeling the desires imbued in such glossy images, the artist uses depth, surface, and shape to twist each composition’s implicit message of health, spiritual awakening, or renewal. James reveals the malleability of such messages, as well as our own aspirations.
SoftCells, a conceptual/curatorial project run by artist Agnes Bolt, considers the various ways that social, cultural, and political constructs become materially inscribed on the body, on a personal and intimate level. Working closely with individual artists as an extension of Bolt’s own practice, all SoftCells exhibitions are presented on or in relation to Bolt’s body. For take care, Bolt invited artist Jules Gimbrone to develop a new work. Gimbrone created a new iteration of their Collapsed Scores series using specimens collected from Bolt’s daily life for a month. These ephemeral objects—spit, hair, moisturizer, et cetera—decay over time between glass planes. Gimbrone works with sculpture and sound to understand how the social world codifies the body through gesture and performance. Presenting an imprint of Bolt’s body through her routine during a set period, Collapsed Scores operates as a potential score for choreography and sound, one that could perhaps be activated or reinterpreted on another occasion by another body.
A number of the artists in take care, involve feminist and anticapitalist alternative healing and spiritual practices, which have historical roots in social justice movements. An herbalist and artist, Saewon Oh collected wild herbs from hikes around Los Angeles to create a custom tea blend for the exhibition, available for free as a beverage during public programs and as a potpourri during open hours. Artist Sarah Manuwal produced custom ceramic vessels to hold these herbs, which can be used in ceremony. Taking the form of potlatch, the project considers how we can promote care and healing outside a commercial market economy.
Artist Hayley Barker participated in feminist neo-pagan circles for years, and the matriarchy- centered politics of these communities, many of which surfaced through second wave feminism, carry through in her paintings and drawings. Using techniques from shamanic meditation, Barker focuses on a figure that she repetitively draws in order to access her subconscious and listen to energy guides. These elaborate, colorful landscapes are not only a manifestation of Barker’s interior reality, but an effort to connect to the viewer on a genuine level. For this exhibition, Barker developed a new large-scale drawing on the walls of the gallery over the month of May.
C. Lavender is a sound artist and healer. Her composition Transmutation Helix, which premiered at ISSUE Project Room, New York, in May 2018, uses specialized software to create tones that trigger “frequency following” responses in the brains of listeners. The effects aim to modify brainwave patterns, resulting in reduced stress and/or physical pain. Following her interest in the healing properties of sound, Lavender’s work yields greater attunement to ourselves and our sonic surroundings, potentially improving sensitivity and personal connections.
Definitions of health and well-being inform not only our individual lives but communal ones as well. This point is addressed in the practice of Young Joon Kwak, who retools beauty and rituals of care away from capitalist heteronormativity and toward efforts that build queer community. Throughout, there’s an effort to carve out liberatory space via performance, sculpture, and installation. Two works from Kwak’s Face Wipe series—Face Wipe III (Corazon) (2017) and Face Wipe II (Traviesa) (2017)—cast fiberglass cloth in resin with the imprint of makeup. Seemingly animated by an invisible force, these sculptures skirt and creep across surfaces in the gallery. Their drifting movements and quietly disruptive presence perhaps echo the exhibition’s negotiation with our present reality, and the struggles to reframe “self-care.”
Hayley Barker was raised in Oregon. Her psychological self-portraits revolve around a daily process of drawing in bed, “beddrawing,” wherein the stuff of dreams, lingering mundane thoughts and desires, and the spirit world overlap. From this practice comes frenetic, gestural, intimate mixed-media drawings and oil paintings on panel that include text. Barry Schwabsky has observed that Barker’s “visionary paintings are relentless storms of mark-making that always have a face; it might evade your glance or stare you down.” Since moving to Los Angeles in 2015 Barker has shown at venues such as The Pit, Abode, Big Pictures LA, and Bozo Mag. In January 2018 she released the second edition of Vintage Self Help (2017), her first book of essays, focusing on trauma, healing, art, and shamanism, published with Williamson + Knight in Portland, Oregon. Her solo show shows have been reviewed and featured in Art in America, the Curate LA blog, the L.A. Weekly, and Visual Art Source Online. Her flat file project, The Barker Hanger, debuted at Odd Ark LA in April 2018, showing the work of more than 55 local and national artists, and introduced a casual ritual revolving around sharing works on paper. Her work is currently on view as part of The Divine Joke, curated by Barry Schwabsky, at Anita Rogers Gallery in New York. Barker lives in East Hollywood and paints in Glassell Park. hayleybarker.com
Darya Diamond is an object maker whose practice is rooted in methods of reproduction through plastics, ceramics, video, and photography. Her work investigates structures of relationality and the female body as a site for pleasure, power, and labor. She has exhibited at Leiminspace, the Honey Trap, and the Roach Motel and Casino, Los Angeles; Main Gallery, Amherst, Massachusetts; and Brick Gallery, Holyoke, Massachusetts. Diamond received her BA from Hampshire College and will complete her MFA at Goldsmiths University of London in 2020. daryadiamond.com
Jules Gimbrone is a New York–based artist and composer who investigates how social performance is codified, captured, and transmitted. Gimbrone uses a variety of recording and amplifying technologies, in addition to materials like glass, clay, ice, mold, and processes of decomposition, to investigate how sound travels through space, bodies, and language; to explore sublimated gendered systems; and to expose the multiple queerings of the performative and pre-formative body. Gimbrone’s performances and installations have appeared at SculptureCenter, ISSUE Project Room, the Rubin Museum, MOMA PS1, and Stellar Projects, New York; Human Resources and Park View Gallery, Los Angeles; Vox Populi, Philadelphia; and Théâtre de l’usine, Geneva, Switzerland. Gimbrone received an MFA in music composition and integrated media from CalArts in 2014. julesgimbrone.com
Ian James is an artist based in Los Angeles, working primarily in photography. He holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts. He has participated in exhibitions at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art; Holiday Forever, Jackson, Wyoming; Self Actualization, Houston; the UNLV Barrick Museum, Las Vegas; and Roberts & Tilton, vacancy, and REDCAT, Los Angeles. He has been an artist in residence at SÍM in Reykjavik, Iceland, and the Wassaic Project in New York state. James is an adjunct assistant professor at Otis College of Art and Design and adjunct faculty at Art Center College of Design and Pasadena City College. ianjamesinternetwebsite.com
Young Joon Kwak is a Los Angeles–based multidisciplinary artist working primarily through sculpture, performance, video, and collaboration. Kwak’s work aims to change how we view our bodies by reimagining their form, functionality, and materiality—from static and bound to pre-inscribed power structures, to an expanded sense of bodies and their environs as mutable and open-ended. Kwak is the founder of Mutant Salon, a roving beauty salon/platform for experimental performance collaborations with her community of queer, trans, femme, POC artists and performers, and the lead performer in the electronic-dance-noise band Xina Xurner. Kwak has had performances and exhibitions at the Hammer Museum, the Broad, REDCAT, and ONE National LGBT Archives, Los Angeles; Regina Rex and Smack Mellon, Brooklyn; Southern Exposure, San Francisco; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver; the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; and Pavillon Vendôme Centre d’Art Contemporain, Clichy, France. Kwak and Mutant Salon will present an exhibition at LACE, Los Angeles, as the organization’s artist+collective-in-residence this summer. Kwak was recently awarded the Rema Hort Mann Foundation’s Emerging Artist Grant and Artist Community Engagement Grant, and the Art Matters Grant. She holds an MFA from the University of Southern California, an MA in humanities from the University of Chicago, and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. youngjoon.com
C. Lavender is a sound artist, educator, and healer based in Hudson Valley, New York, whose work spans live performance, recording, installation, and workshops. She seeks to create an immersive aural landscape for the listener, an experience that is intensely physical, emotional, and ultimately cathartic. The Village Voice has called her performances “downright iconic, charged with meaning and transgression.” C. Lavender has hosted sound-based workshops at the Rubin Museum, New York; MoMA PS1, New York; the Brooklyn Botanic Garden; and RPI University, Troy, New York. In 2016 she taught a ten-week class for children about the scientific and artistic aspects of sound. Her 2017 full-length album Vanishing Light was recorded in a semi- abandoned school turned county mental health center in Hudson, New York. clavender.net
Sarah Manuwal transmutes memories and mystical experiences into physical matter through her films and sculptures. Using her own psycho-spiritual alchemical processes, which involve automatic writing, dream interpretation, astral projection, and channeling/trance, she weaves ancient mythologies with modern-day personal experiences. Manuwal holds an MFA from California Institute of the Arts and a BFA from New York University Tisch School of the Arts. She has exhibited at Ballroom Marfa, Texas; REDCAT, Human Resources, Arturo Bandini, Charlie James Gallery, and Panel L.A., Los Angeles; and the Cannes Film Festival, France. She lives and works in Los Angeles. sarahmanuwal.cool
SoftCells is a curatorial platform presented by and using the body of Agnes Bolt as exhibition space, or tool for dissemination and recontextualization of artwork. Begun in January 2018, SoftCells has thus far collaborated with Sonja Gerdes, David Horvitz, Nicolas Lobo, and Ethan Tate. Bolt is a Los Angeles–based artist and curator, and a founding member of the Institute for New Feeling and Blue Ruin. Her work has recently been shown at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Ballroom Marfa, Texas; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Istanbul Modern; MAAT, Lisbon; Whitechapel Gallery, London; the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany; Recess, New York; and M Woods, Beijing, among other venues. www.instagram.com/soft__cells
Saewon Oh is an herbal medicine maker, artist, teacher, and founder of Sun Song, a line of herbal remedies designed for meditative and earth-based healing practices. She teaches workshops, guides tea ceremonies, and offers herbal consultations in Los Angeles. She is also a member of Nine Herbs Charm, a multidisciplinary artist collective engaged in an ongoing, process-based collaboration with nine specific plants. saewon-oh.com
Amanda Vincelli is an artist from Montreal living and working in Los Angeles, where she cofounded NAVEL. Her installations, videos, photographs, audio, artist’s books, websites, and livestreams trouble conceptions of the “real,” the “original,” and the “natural,” pointing to the possible disruption of normative social structures and human biology through the power of culture and technology. Her works explore this contemporary cyborgian reality as a site of both transformation and control, examining the control mechanisms at play in the digital space, their origins, and their ramifications, for instance how the internet’s technical architecture and systems of governance proliferate neoliberal ideology and inequality, and streamline the commodification of corporeal and personal experience. Vincelli recently completed her MFA in photography and media from California Institute of the Arts, and holds a bachelor’s degree in strategic design from the New School, New York, and a degree in health sciences from André-Grasset College, Montreal. Recent exhibitions include Respite, California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (2018); Corpus Alienum, Hunter Shaw Fine Art, Los Angeles (2017); Clothing Optional, Night Gallery, Los Angeles (2017); The Public Space: Regimen, Studio XX, Montreal (2017); and Body of Research, Sloan Projects, Los Angeles (2016). amandavincelli.com