At first glance, Lee Lozano’s Slip, Slide, Splice is crude; phallic imagery abounds in the Fruitmarket Gallery’s latest exhibition. It may appear we’ve seen such suggestive art before, but Lozano’s semantic play of sex and syntax offers the viewer a new perspective on the role of language in art, adopting a sensuously witty and inventive vocabulary in her work. The pieces on show date to Lozano’s New York career in the 60s and 70s, before a rejection of the art world that would last the rest of her life.
It is her apparent fascination with promiscuous language that makes this exhibition such an exciting space. The works play on childish puns: ‘man cocking his ear’ mirrors a visibly suggestive object emerging from a human ear, to the arbitrary phallic form being reassigned to different geometric contexts. The relationship with these shapes to the human face draws on the erotic, fluctuating with abstraction as Lozano scrutinises the compositional value of the member.
A remarkably sexual vocabulary continues along the lower gallery, where such phallic forms appear to undergo a metamorphosis. Plug sockets and hammers are energetically rendered in charcoals and pastels, reconsidering notions of human satisfaction in everyday objects. Male potency is connoted, and a new semantic understanding is granted to such words as ‘screw’, ‘nail’ and ‘hammer’. Furthering an enthusiasm for the written word, a room is dedicated to Lozano’s ‘Infofiction’, portraying her life through instructions as a documentation of her daily activities. Her writing is enthralling, but it would have been more so to view these written documents intermingled with the works she would have concurrently produced. Such an interaction of the verbal with the pictorial would have furthered the readable, comprehensible value of this exhibition.
Nonetheless, her paintings are a highlight, for which the curatorship furthers their readability; the painted works set in one immense horizontal line invite the viewer to study them from left to right, observing a subtle evolution and reconfiguration of their forms and figures as the collection extends the entire length of the lower gallery’s main wall. The phallus has become an aeroplane, provocatively resting on a human face. The application of oil paint is thick and rough – vigorous brushstrokes predominate.
Much like individual words, these paintings vary in size, forming a visual sentence across the gallery wall. Toothy mouths and bulging eyes jest at the viewer; Lozano’s palette is primitive and sultry, dirty and marred. There appears a pictorial grammar to the disappearance and re-emergence of shapes, verging on the abstract as the viewer attempts to discern the seemingly provocative image being displayed. These works are concise and contained, often allowing the original wood onto which they’re painted to emerge from their swampy layers of paint.
Upstairs, the scale of the work is significantly augmented. ‘Cram, Clamp and Lean’ (pictured) display a visible tension in the massive abstract geometries which compose them. Torsions and friction are displayed, demonstrating Lozano’s mastery of composition and gradient painting. Even through their names, the viewer is presented with a dynamism coherent throughout the exhibition pieces.
Also integral to the exhibition is Lozano’s experimentation with ideas, both through drawings and words. The curation of the exhibition allows us to view the process of her thinking, where crucifixes transform into ice-creams, and lastly into phallic members. Lozano explores sexuality not from a deliberately provocative perspective, but from one fascinated with how language works to interact with people, with shapes, and with the body. The visual grammar she puts forward is vulgar and shocking, but it does still proclaim a message of sensual pleasure, confidence and prowess concurrent with a burgeoning feminism. On until 3 June, this exhibition is certainly worth a visit.
Until 3 June
Image credit: Carlos Finlay