By Juan Barquin
By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
By Ciara LaVelle
By Travis Cohen
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Monica McGivern
"Besos," at Leonard Tachmes Gallery, features a fanciful body of photography, video, and installations in a loosely knit exhibit that combines the talent of four emerging female artists. And as the title suggests, the show seeks to address issues of sexuality, intimacy, and femininity.
The works by the collaborative duo GisMo (Jessica Gispert and Crystal Molinary), Mirna Massengale, and Isabel Moros-Rigau are isolated in separate rooms of Tachmes's Old Florida home retrofitted into a gallery. Situated in what was once the two-story abode's parlor, near the gallery entrance, is GisMo's Majestuosas Princesas. The installation re-creates a stereotypical gaudy Cuban living room circa the Seventies, replete with a plastic slip-covered couch, faux marble end tables, ostentatious bric-a-brac, a gilded fireplace, and scads of family photographs hung salon style on walls. While the chintzy furniture and porcelain baubles add to the sensation of visiting a tacky relative's home, the meat of the artists' self-referential pork-chops-in-pantyhose aesthetic is larded out in theatrically staged photographs that parody Cuban Miami with wicked glee. GisMo's carefully posed pictures typically depict the buxom artists in grotesque vignettes that seem spiced with the lyrics from Queen's rollicking ode to the joy of curves: "Fat-bottomed girls, you make the rockin' world go 'round."
In an ornately framed piece titled Zenaida, a teenage corn-fed version of Cher is seen from the side, sitting at a baby grand piano, her head sassily tossed back and toward the spectator, belting out a tune. The talented bimbo, sporting a shimmering blue sheath that matches her eye shadow and fingernails, taps a foot stuffed into a gold shoe. Below the picture a crescent-shape console table holds a plaster bust of Cuban patriot José Martí. A tawdry fabric flower arrangement stuck inside a cheap brass vase rests nearby. The artists, who were raised in working-class Cuban enclaves in Westchester and Hialeah, appear to be celebrating their upbringing in homes where image consciousness was more related to nylon upholstery, linoleum flooring, and Formica veneers. To their credit, they simultaneously attempt to dish out a wry commentary on the landscape of the body gone to pot by conspicuous consumption.
With a sneer at the heroin chic fashionable during their adolescence, and a jiggle of the roast-pork-and-fried-plantain waistlines shared by many of their generation, they unapologetically confront the viewer with images of obesity marinated in glamour, seeking to upend ideals that society considers seductive.
In Club Culebra, Yannette, Manolo and Herminia, the artists show up at an outdoor cantina as champagne-guzzling suicide blonds squeezed into constricting prom dresses. As one of the young women peers at the spectator while swigging from her plastic cup, the other flicks cigarette ashes and coyly locks eyes with a swarthy Lothario bartender wearing a wife-beater shirt under an unbuttoned guayabera.
An untitled work shows one of the artists squatting above a pile of dog shit on her patio. She gestures at the poop with a French-manicured paw while grimacing indignantly as if her mother ordered her to clean up the mess. Unlike Cindy Sherman whose famous Film Stills series critically examined how the media represents femininity with stereotypical female characters she enacted, such as bored housewives, coddled mistresses, and jilted lovers the GisMo girls are cut from the same cloth as Cyndi Lauper. Pieces such as Fregona, in which a smirking young woman tussles with dirty dishes in a kitchen, suggest Gispert and Molinary are comfortable just poking fun at pampered young Cuban-American princesses rather than kicking up critical dust. Should they ever decide to get serious about tackling their chores, they have ample material with which to work. With a keen talent for kitchen cabinet archaeology, GisMo may soon find themselves cramped by a vulgar reliance on their particular strain of dirty Realism. They appear satisfied to be milking for laughs.
Mirna Massengale's video installation, Sell Out, mines the murk of booty-call etiquette. A large video projection on a wall depicts an anxious brunette fiddling with a cell phone and a beeper as she lies on a bed covered in a garish pink velour spread. The sounds of a running shower, phones ringing, and the lyrics "Oh girl, I'd be in trouble if you left me now" waft over a loudspeaker. Arranged on the floor is a pink blanket strewn with beeper cases. On opposite sides of the fabric are two purse-size, tripod-mounted video screens that show couples making out. Gay, lesbian, and heterosexual lovers passionately embrace in showers, on balconies, and in living rooms. The streaming imagery on the smaller screens heightens the desperation of the lone female isolated in the larger projection, who restlessly checks her phone and pager for a call that never comes.
Massengale offers an interesting commentary on the nature of arbitrary relationships between consenting fuck friends. She also reminds us that like the girl left hanging on a string in the video, unattached sex between the best of buddies can be as unfulfilling and messy as the hangover from a one-night stand.
In stark contrast to the playful nature of the other works, Isabel Moros-Rigau's piece exudes a poetic stream-of-consciousness vibe that captures the intimacy of everyday activities. Her video Not Told Untold, displayed on a TV screen, features a child holding his father's hand. The words no me toques (don't touch me) appear on the screen. As a fusion of mambo and waltz music spills from a speaker, kids in karate uniforms flail away at each other with sticks. As marching band music begins, a woman's voice talks about nightmares. The jazzy, lyrical quality is enhanced by images of fabric swatches and abstract snippets of crochet that swim languidly across the tube.
Rather than casting a satisfying light on issues of femininity and sexuality, "Besos" oddly submerges the more nuanced emotions related to intimacy and leaves viewers yearning for a sense of cohesiveness.