Curated By Eliana Blechman 
601Artspace, 88 Eldridge Street
Feb 10 - April 14, 2024

View installation images here

Juliana Cerqueira Leite
Priscilla Dobler-Dzul
Gyun Hur 
Ani Liu
Joiri Minaya
Barb Smith

Curator’s Statement

We hold stories in our bodies, leaving traces of ourselves and our histories as we move through spaces. Those remnants left behind can be loud, infiltrating a room, or they can be soft, subtle, nearly imperceptible.

In Absentia focuses on these spatial traces, exploring nontraditional modes of portraiture through the conspicuous absence of the body. The artists in this exhibition use bodily impressions, remnants, and residues to explore personal and social themes of loss and mourning, historical memory, unseen labor, and desire. In removing the physical body, the artists emphasize experiences and contexts that are traditionally overlooked, inviting the viewer to consider the remaining empty spaces or materials more closely. Despite removing corporeality from their work, the artists’ bodies become even more present.

It is not by design, but noteworthy, that all of the artists in this exhibition are women. Ongoing debates over women’s bodily autonomy surface in many of the works, as does the goal of preserving and protecting histories and culture. These artists are storytellers, memory keepers, and caretakers of personal and public knowledge.

Gyun Hur explores diasporic memory and personal loss through visual art, poetry, and communal experience. Composition of us and the river - “liken it to the dance” consists of glass-cast impressions of Hur’s torso filled with a mixture of water from local rivers and breast milk. Reflections of light on the shifting liquid surface change over months of display, mirroring the ways in which grief shifts and comes in waves over time. Incorporating water and milk into the negative space of her own body, Hur elicits memories of and hopes for a baptismal rebirth.

Ani Liu’s Untitled (pumping at work) circulates a facsimile of the volume of breastmilk produced by the artist during one week through a series of clear, coiled tubes that snake on and around the gallery floor and front desk. Patented in 1854, the breast pump can be considered a liberatory device, empowering women to reenter the workforce postpartum. It can also, however, be seen to create an obligation for new mothers to return to a capitalist industry that devalues the already considerable labor involved in caretaking. In displaying the milk produced by the artist disembodied from its source, Liu renders visible the often invisible labors of reproduction and motherhood. In Untitled (pumping at work) the labor of caretaking infringes on the labor of the office, overtaking the gallery desk and demanding recognition.

Joiri Minaya’s film Siboney captures the artist’s painstaking labor of painting a wall with colorful, tropical flowers and then smearing the still-wet paint off its surface. Minaya dons a white maid’s uniform for the month-long preparatory process, placing herself into the role of unseen domestic worker—a role often filled by Dominican women like herself and other people of color. In destroying the tropical, painted pattern, Minaya challenges the exoticization of Dominican domestic workers, using her own body to disrupt both idealistic tropical landscape and viewers’ desirous gaze. 

Priscilla Dobler-Dzul’s ceramic vessels are imbued with both her physical imprint and the legacy of ancestral knowledge. The artist makes each clay vessel by hand, using coiling and pinch pot techniques she learned as a child from her grandmother and pressing each form against her own body while it is still wet. Once fired, the works document the muscle memory of the artist as well as of the land from which Dobler-Dzul pulls her clay. Some vessels are further personalized through the addition of sharp porcupine quills, thorns, or other materials that circumvent the artist’s body but might puncture other attempted users. The vessels are intended for ritual and performance, including the distribution of seed bombs and, drawing from her Mayan ancestral traditions, the preparation and serving of cacao. In creating a form that fits only her body, Dobler-Dzul protects it against co-optation by outsiders, preserving its sacredness and privacy even when used or placed in a public environment. 

Barb Smith examines artifacts and lost histories, constructing new, playful iterations of ancient objects. Her life-size, memory foam imprints act as fabricated fossils of her own body. Smith’s forms allude to classical sculpture, revealing contrapposto-like curves, while creating partial portraits that operate like photographs, capturing fleeting moments of the artist’s embrace. Her permanent interventions in the memory foam–a material that, counterintuitively, is intended to “forget” the maker’s imprint, are labor intensive; Smith soaks the memory foam in acqua resin and then firmly embraces the material for nearly an hour in order to set its new shape. Her sculptures preserve the memory of the artist’s body, bridging scientific, archaeological study and chemical reaction with a surprising intimacy of form and material.

Juliana Cerqueira Leite created her Reaching series of sculptural shelves by casting her hands as they reached for consumer objects. The resulting colorful, layered forms capture the motion of Leite’s body rather than the shape of her hand itself. Leite considers how our desires mediate our movements and are often dictated by our constructed world–one filled with the objects, purchases, wants, and needs of capitalism. The sherbert-like coloring of her plaster sculptures underlines this consumerist appetite, playing into the viewer’s gluttony for appealing material objects.

Considering portraiture without the body expands this most traditional of genres and invites the viewer to reflect on the ways artists insert themselves and their stories into their work. Despite the apparent abstraction of many of their interventions, the artists in In Absentia ground their works in movement, bodily form, and the evidence of labor. The body, or lack thereof, becomes a charged political, cultural, or social landscape, asserting itself through its decisive absence.

- Eliana Blechman 

About the artists

Juliana Cerqueira Leite is a Brazilian sculptor based in New York. She often works from the inside-out, producing indexes of movement. Her works in sculpture, drawing and video engage the complicated histories and possible futures of representing the human form. Cerqueira Leite graduated from the Slade School of Fine Art Sculpture MFA in London as recipient of the Kenneth Armitage Prize in 2006. She was awarded the Furla Art Prize in 2016 and the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2019.

She has exhibited internationally at venues such as the Sculpture Center, New York; Saatchi Gallery, London; the 2017 Venice Biennale Antarctic Pavilion; the Brazilian Museum of Sculpture and Ecology, MuBE, São Paulo; and Hordaland Kunstsenter for the 2019 Bergen Assembly, Norway. Recent solo shows include Instituto Tomie Ohtake, São Paulo; Nogueras Blanchard, Madrid; Alma Zevi, Venice; Galeria Casa Triângulo, São Paulo; and Proxyco Gallery, New York. Her work has been reviewed in publications such as Artforum, Frieze Magazines, The Brooklyn Rail and The MIT Drama Review.

Priscilla Dobler-Dzul is an interdisciplinary storyteller, focused on reframing the context of America’s prideful nationalism and colonization of indigenous cultures while critiquing identity and examining the structures of power in our domestic lives through multiple craft mediums. Her work has been exhibited domestically and internationally. Most recently she has shown at Untitled Miami, Miami, FL; MadArt, Seattle, WA; Material Art Fair, Mexico City, MX and Nome Gallery, Berlin, Germany. She received her MFA in Sculpture from the State University of New Paltz, NY in 2013.

Gyun Hur (b. Daegu, South Korea) is an interdisciplinary artist and educator whose lived experience as a first-generation immigrant largely informs her creative practice and pedagogical approach. Born in South Korea, she moved to the U.S. state of Georgia at the age of 13 and currently lives and works in New York.

In Hur’s practice, she is deeply engaged in generating poetics of beauty and grief in visual and emotional spaces she creates. Through iterations of installations, performances, drawings, and writings, Gyun traverses between autobiographical abstraction and figurative storytelling, asking what holds us together; stories, yearnings, rituals, and spirituality.

Hur has participated in residencies with Stove Works, NARS Foundation, Pratt Fine Arts Center, BRICworkspace, Danspace Project, Ox-Bow, Vermont Studio Center, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is the recipient of a Bronx Museum AIM Fellowship, Foundation for Contemporary Arts Emergency Grant, Artadia Award, and the inaugural Hudgens Prize, among others. Her works have been featured in publications including Art in America, Art Papers, Sculpture magazine, Hyperallergic, Cultured magazine, The Cut, and ArtAsiaPacific, among others.

Ani Liu is an internationally exhibiting research-based artist working at the intersection of art & science. Ani’s work examines the reciprocal relationships between science, technology and their influence on culture and identity. Reoccurring themes in the work include gender politics, biopolitics, labor, reproduction, simulation and sexuality. Ani has exhibited internationally, at the Venice Biennale, Ars Electronica, the Queens Museum Biennial, Kunstmuseum Basel, MIT Museum, Mana Contemporary, Harvard University, and Shenzhen Design Society. Ani’s work has been featured in The New York Times, Art in America, National Geographic, VICE, Mashable, Gizmodo, Hyperallergic, TED, PBS, FOX and WIRED. Ani has a B.A. from Dartmouth College, a Masters of Architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and a Master of Science from MIT Media Lab.

Joiri Minaya (b. 1990) is a NY-based Dominican-United Statesian multidisciplinary visual artist whose work destabilizes historic and contemporary representations of an imagined tropical identity. She studied art at the ENAV (DR), the Chavón School of Design, and Parsons. Minaya has exhibited across the Caribbean, the U.S. and internationally. She recently received a Latinx Artist Fellowship, a NYSCA / NYFA Artist Fellowship, a Jerome Hill Fellowship and a NY Artadia award, and has participated in residencies at Skowhegan, Smack Mellon, LES Printshop, Socrates Sculpture Park, Art Omi, ISCP, Vermont Studio Center, New Wave, Silver Art Projects and Fountainhead, among others.

Minaya’s work is in the collections of the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA), Princeton University Art Museum (Princeton, NJ), MIT List Visual Art Center’s permanent collection (Cambridge, MA), El Museo del Barrio (New York, NY), and the Kemper Museum (Kansas City, Missouri) in the US, as well as the Centro León Jimenes, Santiago and the Museo de Arte Moderno (Santo Domingo) in the Dominican Republic, and the Fundación Ama Amoedo Collection in Uruguay.

Barb Smith is a Queens-based artist born in Kokomo, Indiana. She holds an MFA in Sculpture from Bard College. Her work invites reflection on one’s relationship to the material world by mining the tension between seeing, touching, and recalling.

Solo exhibitions include Essex Flowers Window Box, NY; Fine Arts Center Gallery, University of Arkansas, AR; Stepsister, NY; 315 Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Group exhibitions include The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY; Miriam, Brooklyn; Float, fly, transcend, Alabama Contemporary, Mobile, AL; Museo Tamayo, CDMX, Mexico; September, Hudson, NY; American Academy of Arts and Letters, NY; Museum of Arts and Design, NY; SculptureCenter, NY; Queens Museum, NY.

Smith is the recipient of a Mayer Foundation Grant, a Peter S. Reed Foundation Individual Artist Grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Sculpture. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 2012. Her work has been featured in such publications as Less than Half, Cream Magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, The Washington Post, and Hyperallergic. Her writing has been featured in The Shawangunk Review, No, Dear Magazine, The Saint Lucy, Makhzin, and The Brooklyn Rail.

About the curator

Eliana Blechman is a curator and arts worker based in New York. She is the Director of Curatorial Affairs and Partnerships at Dieu Donné, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving established and emerging artists through the collaborative creation of contemporary art using the process of hand papermaking. Previously, Eliana was the inaugural Archive & Collection Fellow at Dieu Donné. She has also held positions as Associate Curator at Time Equities Inc. Art-in-Buildings; Curatorial Associate at AC Institute; and as Project Coordinator at CITYarts, Inc. Eliana received her MA in Art History from Hunter College, NY, and was awarded a Hofmann Drawing Research Award in support of her thesis. She also holds an Advanced Certificate in Curatorial Studies from Hunter College, and received her BA as a double major in Art History and History from New York University.

Image: Barb Smith, “Untitled”, 2014. memory foam, aqua resin, steel. Courtesy of the artist. 

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