Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Isabel Theselius wanted to show us how she approaches fear! and then the pandemic happened...

At the non-existent opening at Monte Vista Projects, Isabel Theselius handed me a vinyl decal and an air freshener that dangles down from a tiny blue nazar. Both sported the same almost indecipherable text in a heavy-metal-ish font on a stylized spider web: “baby on board”. 

She told me that I didn’t actually have to have a kid to take it, unless I wanted to give it to some other artist-parents I knew (I was thinkin Anna & Rollin), but I could still have it too. I think I know what she means, because if I want to feel like a badass parent with the newfound supernatural powers of telepathy, intense day-dreaming and fearlessness, then this too is for me, regardless of the fact that I have no idea where to put this stuff.

Like, if I gave this to some family, which car would they put this on? The suburban mini-van/SUV hybrid? The mid-life crisis dream car? I should mention that she’s also wearing a belt buckle she cast and painted herself, made with the same imagery as a painting in her show, her 2.5 year-old kid driving like hell down through an abstract forest where the high beams are flames and the interior of the car is of another dimension entirely. 

Next to that piece is what I think is the most shocking piece. It’s her wild blonde haired kid, naked, riding a white-hot skeleton motorcycle which is barreling through a psychic beyond. You just don’t see anyone portraying their own kin with an intimacy with death, or rather, a sense of calm adventure with the myriad ways one kid could lose a limb. Now I’m thinking about the gruesome acts which were the predecessors of the epic women’s march and next-day strike that took place in Mexico City before the coronavirus epidemic made everyone scarce. In comparison to the lack of people in this non-opening there’s actually a lot of work in this show and each piece feels too playful to be contained.

The simple gesture of flipping fear on its head is really understated, partly because the craft is rendered with just enough reverence to a spiritual realm, similar to the kinds of hidden symbols you’d look for in tarot cards. Almost a year ago, I admitted to Isabel that I didn’t know what to do with this unnerving artist block that was lasting for years and I explained that I was trying a Jodorowsky ‘Psychomagic' curriculum with friends. She casually suggested ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert. I really do highly recommend this book, because it sold me on how ideas are these living things that want to collaborate with us, but only if we’re chill about it. And that we also have to fully kick the bad habit of romanticizing 'the suffering artist’ martyr and become a ‘trickster' that has a genius, rather than is a genius. The range and amount of her work would be intimidating if it didn’t feel like such a practical natural flow.  

I asked her if she meditated or did yoga before getting into this work (I asked because I had just been looking at Haruka Tanaka’s mystical body scanning drawings where her quiet channeling results in loud visuals) but she shrugs that that’s what the art making is for her, she doesn’t need anything else. Nate and Isabel were on the same Crosstown artist-in-residency in Memphis, Tenneesee where she also used a nearby Maker-space (with the 2-hour daycare window) to make some speedy work. I’m encouraged by the ritual or rhythm I feel like I can detect in the work, or whatever regularity it is that helped to produce this tight body of work that is pretty much riffing on the same statement/sentiment. 

She says that it drives her kid crazy that he can’t just play with the hand-made motorcycle (at most he can wear the biker jacket), and someone else asks if she thinks he might feel embarrassed later at some point by these works. No one asked me, but I blurt out, ‘nah, more likely he’d need to worry how to live up to it all.’

I thought I was on this kick where I complain about solo shows and how they feel morally bankrupt in a time when collective action is more necessary than ever, but you know what they say... 'don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.' Or I could just say that this show sidestepped my overly righteous opinion. Check it out? Am I even allowed to say that right now?

The opening is postponed, and we're supposed to stay at home, but a closing IS listed as April 19th at Monte Vista Projects; maybe they'll present it virtually? What if I still want to read about art shows that no one actually gets to see? Can we make this a thing?

Also, how timely is this little button that says "Stay Sick"?