Featuring works by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Emily Barker, Simon Denny, Ana Viktoria Dzinic, Win McCarthy, Gretchen Lawrence, Carolyn Lazard, Coumba Samba and Diamond Stingily, World as diagram, work as dance, exhibited at Emalin during February & March 2023, delved into the interplay between bodies, space, and social structures, exploring the ways in which spatial and material conditions affect our perception of the environment around us. In this interview, curator Tosia Leniarska reflects on the motivations behind her research, touches on the impact that the organisation of the body has on the organisation of the mind and discusses the dance-like reciprocity between body and space.
KOOZ The group exhibition World as diagram, work as dance takes choreography as a method for mapping the body in space and traces how social directions are arranged through objects across generations and places, how aesthetics are used in the restriction or shaping of bodies and how these are implicated in constructed space. What prompted the exhibition and how does this sit within the larger curatorial agenda of Emalin?
TL I’m obsessed with diagrams: the exhibition at Emalin stems from my studies in philosophy and contemporary art theory as well as my wider interest in diagrams as a means of structuring knowledge and communicating ideas. This fascination drew me to the pictograms of the early capitalist scholars Frank and Lillian Gilbreth who were researchers operating prior to Taylorism and Fordism. The Gilbreths created a pictogrammatic language for orchestrating the workers’ bodies in the assembly line of the factory. A choreography designed for optimising productivity, it signalled the birth of social engineering and developed a new tool for enforcing early capitalistic American ideology. Working with architects, Lillian Gilbreth then shaped these designs into architectural spaces, and, shifting the optimisation strategy from the industrial space of the factory to the domestic space of the kitchen, she introduced time management into the body and space of the home. Prior to Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky’s "Frankfurt kitchen", a benchmark of architecture and social engineering of a utopian modernist leftist angle, Lillian Gilbreth’s "Kitchen Practical" was the product of a right-wing perspective which was shaped by the first ideas of industrial capitalism. It was the moment that industrial capitalism entered private space, moving the factory to the home. I would say that this moment of connection between the body, the system, the structure and the ideology in space and motion, as a choreography, was the starting point of the research.
This moment of connection between the body, the system, the structure and the ideology in space and motion, as a choreography, was the starting point of the research.
KOOZ Can the exhibition be then understood as a research in and of itself?
TL Absolutely. The exhibitions I appreciate the most are those that seek to connect the ideas and perspectives put forth by different artists from diverse backgrounds and contexts. I see strength in the research and display of works which are choreographed through diverging lines of enquiry.
KOOZ The works presented by the nine artists address structures of measurement, normativity and affect. Specifically, a selection of the works explore notions of accessibility, from the phone camera photographs taken by Emily Barker of the damage caused by the artist’s wheelchair, to the video and transcripts by Carolyn Lazard who uses accessibility as a lens through which to pull apart the roles of instruction, translation and description. To what extent is the medium the message? How does the exhibition challenge and explore notions of accessibility in our built environment and how bodies are restricted and reproduced by policy?
TL The works presented by artists Emily Barker and Carolyn Lazard in the exhibition are political as well as conceptual statements directly challenging notions of accessibility in our built environment. In particular, I was drawn to Emily’s installation presented at the last Whitney Biennial and how it responds to the imposing ideology that is materially constructed into our normed spaces as per standardised kitchen designs. Through very light vacuum formed plastic, a material that Emily uses because of its lightness and easier assembly process which she is able to undertake from their wheelchair, the installation addressed the haunting experience of moving about in the normative inaccessible kitchen. For our exhibition, Emily contributed a triptych of digital photos taken on a phone by a friend after Emily had tried entering a bathroom at the Cité Internationale des Arts studio. Picturing corners of walls scraped by the artist’s wheelchair as marks of violence where the body is now removed, the work addresses the material relationship of authorship, reliance and agency between people whilst hinting at the real violence that is constantly inflicted by the architecture on the individual and the community. As in a reflexive act, a back and forth, there’s an agency involved in the body responding to the space that is imposing a constraint.
As in a reflexive act, a back and forth, there’s an agency involved in the body responding to the space that is imposing a constraint.
Carolyn Lazard also adopts a critical approach to accessibility, refusing to participate in inaccessible exhibition spaces. The work Leans Reverses Channel 2 features the subtitles from the film of the same title, exhibited at the Walker Art Center and Nottingham Contemporary which follows a performer replicating a choreography under which closed captions describe the sounds produced by the body. At Emalin, the manuscript with the subtitles repositions viewership itself, shifting values of description in the non-normative sensorial experience of an artwork.
KOOZ Expanding our understanding of how sound can be used to map and reconstruct space, Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Earwitness Inventory Metal Door Instrument, reconfigures sound through the construction of objects (described by the artist as instruments or mnemonic devices) that replicate sounds described in testimonies and based on interviews—with victims of political imprisonment and with witnesses in trials, for whom sound could provide a form of evidence. Extracted from their “original” framework, how does the context of the exhibition inform the reading of the work and act as a portal into other sound architectures?
TL Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s Earwitness Inventory Metal Door Instrument, is part of a larger body of ninety-five works titled Earwitness Inventory which are all based on testimonies from interviews conducted by the artist himself with witnesses in trials or victims of political imprisonment, for whom sound could provide a form of evidence. Each testimony carries with it the implication of a surrounding architecture which nonetheless always remains as a phantom and whose only tangible element is the sound. The objects in Earwitness Inventory are inspired by the devices used within the foley studios and include instruments whose specific sound responds to the mnemonic imagination of the witnesses, as per the metallic door which reflects a collective idea of the sound of a door being locked or banged closed. The objects in the gallery are thus simultaneously mechanism, memory, imagination and medium whilst hinting at the impossibility of recreating these spectral architectures which remain as inaccessible to the witness as the gallery visitor.
The objects in the gallery are thus simultaneously mechanism, memory, imagination and medium
KOOZ World as diagram, work as dance also invites us to reflect on how we measure our bodies, whether this is done through the collection of evidence, to navigate the bureaucratic structure of gender reassignment procedures—as undertaken by Ana Viktoria Dzinic—or through a National patent—as per the US patent for the Amazon Worker Cage—and explored through Simon Denny’s relief at the edge between threat and ridicule. How does the exhibition seek to open up new possibilities of measurement and relationships between body and space?
TL I think there is a very interesting relationship between Ana Viktoria Dzinic and Simon Denny’s work as they both address a certain type of identity which is produced and exists between the personal and the bureaucratic.
Ana Viktoria Dzinic’s work is the reconstruction of an artwork she made while transitioning as a transgender child. Manifested as systematic documentation produced throughout her childhood to make her identity legible and meet the bureaucratic demands of the state for gender reassignment procedures, the work explores the zone of extraction where identity and image economy meet. Today Ana associated this material to her research in the image economies of digital media and how we each construct our identity publicly producing legible versions of ourselves to different structures.
Ana Viktoria Dzinic’s work is the reconstruction of an artwork she made while transitioning as a transgender child.
At the same time, in Simon Denny’s work he draws attention to the bureaucratic tool that a technological patent is – also engaging with the power of constraint that documents have. He uses the case of the Amazon Worker Cages which were designed to enable workers to enter human exclusion zones in their fulfilment centres. Denny’s 3D-printed relief form sits at the edge of threat and ridicule, positioning the U.S. technological patent as a tool not only for the enclosure of a worker’s body, but also the enclosure of intellectual property rights: copyrighting the reproduction of a particular form of spatial violence.
What emerges from these two artworks is a certain kind of sensitivity to making ourselves measurable and legible. Referencing Édouard Glissant’s Poetics of Relation, one could think about ways to maintain the right to opacity and an understanding of what we do when we render ourselves accessible to these extractive structures.
Tosia Leniarska (b. 1997, Warsaw, Poland) is a curator and researcher based in London. She holds a BA in Philosophy and History of Art from University College London (2020) and is undertaking an MA with the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths (2023). She has worked at Emalin since 2019. Recent projects include programming Kem School, an alter-institutional artist residency program of critical practice and expanded choreography based in Warsaw. Other projects include Scrolling the System, Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, PL (2020); The Gnosis Show Part I (online) and Part II, Daisy’s Room, London, UK (2021); and Poradnik Sojuszniczy, Warsaw, PL (2021). She has contributed to publications including Buffalo, King Kong, Busch, i-D, Recens Paper and Gruppe Magazine. She has participated in readings and talks at Tate Modern, London; and Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, PL.
Emalin is a London-based contemporary art gallery run by Leopold Thun and Angelina Volk. Since opening its doors in East London in 2016, the gallery has grown a roster of thirteen international artists with a shared focus on multi-disciplinary and critically engaged practices. The gallery's artists work across a range of media, including video, sculpture, installation, performance, photography as well as painting. The majority of the represented artists had their first UK solo exhibitions at Emalin and all have gone on to exhibit in biennials and at major institutions internationally. Alongside its exhibition programme, Emalin produces publications, regular offsite projects and public events in collaboration with artists, curators and musicians. In Spring 2021, the gallery relocated from its first location to its current premises in a 19th century Victorian building in Shoreditch, East London.