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Personal Structures

Joel Swanson and Laura Shill

Plazzo Bembo, Venice Italy 2017

Black Cube presented two bodies of work by American artists Laura Shill and Joel Swanson, both based in Colorado. Shill and Swanson’s installations consider the complexities of binary structures in gender and language, exploring the spaces in-between. The dichotomies presented in these works reference the age-old pattern of how humans perceive the world through contrast - good and evil, male and female, day and night - and go beyond the polarity of opposites by exploring the in-between spaces of gender norms and language.

 Laura Shill’s Trophy Wall (to disguise the void), offered the viewer a façade of luxury supported by nothing more than old sports equipment gathered from thrift stores. The basketballs and footballs, covered with slinky spandex, are suggestive of male body parts and shimmer like a Las Vegas stage. The title suggests the male world of hunting, and also conjures up ideas of the trophy wife. Shill is interested in the fabric’s use for performance; the material could easily be used by the sex industry or as a costume in a beauty pageant. Trophy Wall (to disguise the void) can also be seen as a symbol for female sexuality, generally perceived as pure or loose, unattainable or easy.


 Joel Swanson’s neon works are semiotically playful, and simultaneously cheap and alluring. In S/HE the ‘S’ flickers on and off, both acknowledging gender separation and fluidity. The backwards ‘S’ creates further ambiguity suggesting a third definition. In T/HERE  “There” is innately part of “Here;” and implies that to have distance, you must first have place. Both works stem from Swanson’s fascination for the shortcomings of language, and opposing concepts that are bound by words.

 Trophy Wall (to disguise the void), S/HE and T/HERE are reflective of the fear of “the other” that has recently surfaced within American politics. These works act as statements about how our contemporary world is currently structured, and question whether we are now at a tipping point to break open the definitions of gender and reconsider how we view difference. 

images courtesy of Black Cube, the artists, Wes Magyar and the Venice Documentation Project

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