Water Works is a group exhibition curated by Danielle Wu that brings together six artists who turn to the washroom as an aesthetic resource: Hana Al-Saadi, Laurie Kang, Ajay Kurian, Mia Raadik, Pauline Shaw, and HaeAhn Woo Kwon. Whether inside the sauna, the hammam, the beauty salon, or the shower, the act of washing oneself has served as grounds to destabilize bodily integrity.
As a phrase that references both civic irrigation systems and a crying fit, Water Works draws a line between one’s own flesh and the broader, social body. The “cultivation of oneself,” as Michel Foucault observed, despite its occurrence in private, is also a deeply social practice that reflects revolving attitudes towards cleanliness, pleasure, health, and morality throughout a range of cultures.
Mia Raadik’s installation Self-care (2022), comprised of pastel shaving creams bearing similar consistency to cake frosting, lays bare the alluring fantasies that drive the so-called feminist “self care” industry. Also conflating flesh with food is Laurie Kang’s Bodied, burgeon (2020); using porous materials such as mesh bags and lotus roots inside a steamer filled with a mysterious viscous solvent, the artist asks what possibilities—naughty or otherwise—are allowed to materialize under the comforting cloak of vapor?
The exhibition also looks at washing as more literally embedded within artistic processes, such as Pauline Shaw’s felted work formed from denatured wool that has been soaked in water and reconstituted anew into cell-like arrangements.
Meanwhile, Ajay Kurian and Hana Al-Saadi directly borrow elements from the bath to consider how racial and gendered Otherness supplies the sensual appeal or repulsion in one of the most intimate daily rituals. Kurian’s Bather (2018) hides a glowing grin behind the veil of a dark shower curtain; its ominous aura emanating from its lack of belonging to any bodily form. Al-Saadi’s new work Sneaky and Pure (2022) is comprised of silicone casts of handheld bidet sprayers that are ubiquitous to her native Qatar and neighboring regions but are foreign entities in the United States, echoing her personal experience as a visitor traveling abroad.
A handout with an introduction by curator Danielle Wu and a guest essay by UCLA professor Summer Kim Lee will be available in conjunction with Water Works. Further public events and details will be forthcoming on ISCP’s website and news-flashes.
Danielle Wu is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn, New York. Her reviews have been published in Art in America, Artforum, and The Offing. Previous curatorial projects include Ghost in the Ghost at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, New York, with scholar Anne Anlin Cheng. She is currently working on a group exhibition to be presented at Pearl River Mart, New York, in 2023.