Lucie Stahl: Surge / Reviewed by Edmée Lepercq / 25.03.18
Oil and milk prices dip and swell in unison. In her current show at Cabinet Gallery, Surge, Lucie Stahl explores the structural similarities of the two industries through eight new works (all from 2018). As she writes in her press release, “both involve a lot of sucking and flowing, as well as the need to refine what has been sucked and pumped into buttery, cheesy or powdered consumable products like petrol, diesel or heating oil”.
At the centre of the show stand Petrochemical Prayer Wheels I and II, forming two rows of oils containers branded Shell, Castrol and Aral. Walking between them, the viewer can gently rotate each can, in a gesture that crudely mirrors Buddhist religious practices (Stahl admits she has a dark sense of humour). While in Asia the wheels hold mantras, the ones here are hollow, to further underline the vacuity of our devotional fervour’s new locus.
A photographic series of industrial equipment still lifes similarly underlines the strange turns our relationship with these commodities has taken. Focused on parts workers grasp, push and pull to suck up fluids or make them flow, they imbue steel pipes and rubber with corporeality. In Fuel Pump, for example, the frontal roundness of the container, striated with ridges, recall the bulges and furrows of a portly belly. The dangling conduits of Surge, on the other hand, visualize the ducts in our own body that hold air, blood, and food, transporting and transmuting them into energy. It is a reversal of the mechanomorphic imagery of Marcel Duchamp, Eva Hesse and Craig Kauffman, as vessels of agricultural and petrochemical liquids are fetishized into a body. The show’s title, then, layers the strong, pulsating momentum of pressure or voltage in machinery, with the intimate, rhythmic mechanics of the body.
Stahl’s inkjet prints are mounted on aluminium and coated in epoxy resin. Their translucent varnish has the slippery moistness of mucus or saliva, the taut appearance of shrink-wrap and the sterilized products of mass consumption. Most of all, it gives the impression of viewing the images through a digital screen. While the resin further disembodies the photographic subject by placing it in the digital realm, it also paradoxically gives the print a physical presence. Stahl has written of her interest with “finish fetish”, the 60s L.A. movement that used industrial materials (aluminium, resins, acrylics, plastics) and processes to create pristine objects. Just as they blurred painting and sculpture, 2D and 3D, Stahl encourages viewers to engage with her prints as objects rather than disembodied conduits for images.
Milk, Oil and Butter is a rare example of Stahl including the human figure in her work. At first, it looks innocuous and pastoral: a wholesome dairyman pours himself a glass of milk, again and again. Stahl’s inclusion of bright pink birds makes the stereotypical image unapologetically artificial in its seduction, highlighting the sliding continuum of desire that leads us from an ad to a purchase. Her work is effective in its evocation of our present day condition, in which we are accustomed to mediating material, digital and fictional realities – the voluminous physicality of objects, the flat consumer screen and the seductiveness of images.
– reviewed by Edmée Lepercq
Below: Installation view, Lucie Stahl, Surge, Cabinet, London, 22 February – 24 March 2018
132 Tyers St, Lambeth, London SE11 5HS