THE INDEPENDENT VOICE OF THE VISUAL ARTS
By Stevie Hanley
100% Acid Hoes Against Empire and Capital is a show of entirely leather artworks by longtime ceramicist Manal Kara currently up at Boyfriends Chicago. Although, known for her strange semi-functional ceramic vessels, Manal Kara has long had a not so secret parallel practice of leather working for the BDSM community under the label White Worm.
It is exciting to see these skill sets being incorporated into a practice that has long mined and debunked the realm of labor historically demarcated as “domestic,” “craft,” or “feminine.”
Psychoanalysis, says Adam Phillips, is about what two people can say to each other if they agree not to have sex. According to Art historian Jeremy Melius, this armistice holds true for art as well. “However intense our rapport with works of art, however immediate their disclosure of the world may feel, we cannot or at least don’t usually, fuck them; we can’t, or at least don’t usually, make them while fucking.”
BDSM equipment however, such as that produced under the White Worm label, is a form of sex prosthetics—further complicating the intimacy to be found between viewer and Manal Kara’s new body of work. This relation becomes ever more complicated when we unravel the complexity of craft. Second wave feminists positioned craft as a methodology, form of knowledge and performative act as a particular reclaimed femme, and later queer, resistance to patriarchy. A quick Google search reveals that there still persists a general consensus in the distinction between craft and art: art is primarily emotive and craft more tangible and functional. “Craftsmanship” is synonymous with skill and care.
Although disproven, such connotations remain for negative and positive potentiality. “Continuing to produce contemporary work within a craft tradition,” reads the press release for 100% Acid Hoe. What is the axiom of craft that cannot be let go; why is the term in the press release; why did I hear it uttered repeatedly opening night? Solely, because Kara is categorized as sculptress rather than a sculptor? Or is it a hope for some still radical resistance uniquely inherent in craft that Manal Kara seizes upon?
Feminine Alienation/Fragmentation, is a quilt hung on the wall probably unlike any quilt you’ve ever seen before, a perverted BDSM spider web, of chains and leather, one of two in the exhibition. Rather than sticky, this is a web to glide upon, a bed for puddles of lube. Made of green and blue cold metallic alien skins—various leathers and perhaps a few types of pleather, fiber hydrophobic rather than hydrophilic.
Depersonalization via capital, 2017, leather, glass, hardware (left) and Feminine Alienation/Fragmentation, 2017, (on wall) dimensions variable. Photo courtesy of Boyfriends Chicago.
Bob Wa Sampler (Self-Attenuation), is arguably the anchor of this exhibition in its craftsmanship and conceptual complexity. Bob Wa Sampler (Self-Attenuation) imitates the tradition dating back to 1874 of framing various types of barbed wire. Originally designed for cattle merchants, these samplers have become a rustic home décor staple of a distinctly Western Americana tradition—a fitting glorification of violent border maintenance for the contemporary US zeitgeist. Kara’s sampler is comprised of an assortment of barbed wires made entirely of green suede leathers, for the tickling of the skin rather than the cutting.
Kara combines the work with a type of concrete poetry antagonistically and violently musing on the ideology of “the self,” such as, “The Expungement of Self” and “The Ablation of the Self.” This fencing off is turned spinally inward, upon the internal chaos neatly categorized as The Self. In “Liquefaction of the Self,” liquefaction is the transformation of a solid into a liquid. It seems the artist desires the solidified self to disintegrate back into some primordial psychic swamplands. “Slug body is clawing and scraping its way back to its own poiesis “… slug body is a hoe… Slug body is a scumfuck poetess, a poem, a road dog, and the road.” 1
Camus writes, “The first concern of any dictatorship is, consequently, to subjugate both labor and culture. In fact, both must be gagged or else, as tyrants are well aware, sooner or later one will speak up for the other.”2 Energy is exerted, channeled, named, and finally valued: sex, craft, art, cleaning, care—labor by various names.
Installation shot of 100% Acid Hoes Against Empire and Captial by Manal Kara at Boyfriends Chicago, photo by Collin Dickson.
Fine art is too often afraid to be caught caring too much, craft is not. Craft labor can occur on the couch while watching television. It is a labor historically less venerated, but one that honors the toil of a broader scope of practitioners. The praxis of craft precedes the renaissance invention of “The Artist” as we understand it today, a term of veneration for a specific type of labor attributed mostly to white males, one that values individual innovation over the sharing of culture and community. Perhaps it is time for the holy, tired and dogmatic term “art” to be deserted and replaced by craft, until that simplified semiotic is also depleted by the demigod lizards.
Now, we’ve entered a sad hamster wheel game of placing one term after the other on the conveyor belt headed to the insatiable mouth of capitalism, in hopes that the word shields the transformative possibility of the action, that prospect laying somewhere in the realms of illiterate knowledge.
1. From the poem Slug Body by Manal Kara
2. Albert Camus, “Why Spain?,” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, trans, Justin O’Brien (New York: Vintage international, 1988), 95.
Stevie Hanley is an artist based in Chicago and an adjunct lecturer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.