Chris Curreri expresses attraction, repulsion, vulnerability in the exhibition

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Chris Curreri’s new exhibition at Contemporary Calgary features a brooding figure who appears to be sulking in a corner. Named Christopher, he is a self-portrait of the artist and a standing life-size puppet with his head leaning against the wall.

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When asked why Christopher is facing the viewer, Curreri at first seems reluctant to answer.

“I guess he’s… kinda punished,” says the Toronto-based artist. “But don’t make me talk too much about that.”

In fact, Curreri seems a little reluctant in general to discuss the sexual undertones of That, There, It, a multidisciplinary exhibition that mixes photography and figurative sculpture and spans more than a decade of the artist’s work. Some of the pieces are meant to represent a “way of speaking about power and vulnerability”.

The first piece a visitor to Contemporary Calgary’s Ring Gallery is likely to encounter is The Thing, a collaboration with Curreri’s partner and colleague, Luis Jacob. The silicone sculpture is based on a photograph created by the two of a man on his hands and knees. In the life-size sculpt, every part of the figure’s body is hermetically sealed under a form-fitting black covering that resembles BDSM fetish gear. The large-scale installation, Self Portrait with Luis Jacob, was just completed this year and features two life-size figures encased in an internally lit mirrored cube. It is based on a 1973 photograph by Toronto artist Rodney Werden titled Self-Portrait with Jorge Zontal. Both Werden and Zontal were part of Toronto’s underground art scene in the 1970s. The image showed the photographer sitting in a chair and Zontal covering his eyes while standing behind him next to a vintage camera. Curreri again used himself and Jacob as models for the play, assuming the role of Werden from him. Bloom, the photograph used as the primary visual to market That, There, Is, depicts a man’s face (Curreri again, presumably) obscured or possibly consumed by a burst bubble of gum.

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“The porosity of bodies as a metaphor (is) a theme that runs through all the work and also the absence of porosity: what does it mean to meet a body that cannot see you or that you cannot touch or that you cannot even speak? not ? he asks.

“I think all the pieces are linked in one way or another,” he adds. “For me most of the work has something to do with using this idea of ​​bodily porosity as a way to talk or show how we relate to each other. These include states of power and vulnerability. For example, I made a puppet of myself. It’s the idea that you manifest yourself to the world, you make yourself present to the world, by speaking. But also the world encroaches on you when you are here. The idea of ​​the puppet waiting to be animated speaks to this. Alternatively, (Bloom), the image that is used for the show, shows another state where something from inside the body is captured through chewing gum. The bubble enters the outer space of the body.

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Curreri studied art and photography at Ryerson University and the Ontario College of Art and Design before earning her Masters of Fine Arts in Photography from Bard College in New York. In 2015, he was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award, which is Canada’s top award for emerging artists. He has participated in several international group exhibitions and produced individual exhibitions across Canada, including Thick Skull, Thin Skin last year at the Esker Foundation in Calgary.

Whatever the thematic threads, it’s safe to say that one of the characteristics of Curreri’s work is that it is provocative. His Kiss Portfolio, for example, is a series of close-up photographs of two men kissing. However, this is not evident by looking at them and, as the accompanying text suggests, “viewers are tempted” to see much more intimate poses and body parts than are actually shown. In another series of photographs titled August 17, 2021, we see close-ups of an old bicycle merged with or slowly consumed by a tree.

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“I shot it at night with a flash,” says Curreri. “I wanted that kind of forensic feel. I think what the flash does is give it a kind of freezing of the incomprehensible, or an absorption.

Perhaps the most provocative pieces in the exhibition are titled Insomniac, which are color photos that feature animal entrails draped over mundane objects or artfully hung. They seem to be safely stepping into both the realm of David Cronenberg-esque body-horror movies and the territory of acquired taste, but Curreri insists they have a beauty too.

“The palette is so beautiful,” he says. “They almost look like blown glass. But I think there’s this tension where people are drawn to the palette or the shape and there’s something complicated about objectifying that death. There is a kind of attraction, repulsion.

Chris Curreri: That, There, It runs until September 18 at Contemporary Calgary.

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Keith P. Plain