‘I’m so excited iii (set experiment)’ (video still), Sophie Soobramanien, 2020
Mutter An art platform alongside yet distinct from Amsterdam’s art scene
The exhibitions at Mutter, the newly opened art platform Mutter are short-lived yet refreshing. Manuela Zammit was able to catch one of them just in time: the duo-exhibition Para-genous Bodies with work by Sophie Soobramanien and Antonin Giroud-Delorme.
Art platform Mutter is the result of many conversations. It is set up in the communal event space formerly known as filmhouse De Lange Adem, run by the inhabitants of the Ruychstraat 295 t/m 301. Three neighbours living in the building got together and decided, with the other residents’ blessing, to turn the room into an exhibition space in the time frames when it is not being used. In this sense, Mutter is something of a para-genous body itself, since it originates alongside the mainstream Amsterdam art scene but operates in a distinct manner from it. The only pity is that the iterations tend to be short-lived, only staying for two, maybe three weeks at a time, but if you are able to catch them before they are gone, you are in for a refreshing art experience.
I caught Para-genous Bodies, one such short-lived exhibition, just in time. ‘Para-genous’ is a neologism made up of a prefix and a suffix. Two parts of a word that usually never get to meet, are brought together. The prefix ‘para-’ can mean to be beside, adjacent to, being distinct from something while comparable to it in certain respects. It can also refer to a thing that acts as a screen against something else, as in the case of a parachute or parasol. The suffix ‘-genous’ means combining form, producing, or originating in. ‘Para-’, therefore, denotes positionality, while ‘-genous’ implies productivity. What meanings might this configuration impart on thinking about bodies? What is being produced and by which means? Could it refer to some sort of bodily by-product? What is being recombined and reconfigured here?
[blockquote]Could ‘Para-genous Bodies’ refer to some sort of bodily by-product? What is being recombined and reconfigured here?
Just like the title playfully prods at the limits of language by assembling a new word from loose parts, so the works in the exhibition push out against the perceived boundaries of the bodily, presenting alien-looking assemblages, bodies pushed to their limit and bodies busy producing the self by performing identity. As I stepped into the enveloping darkness of the exhibition space, I was first met with Antonin Giroud-Delorme’s spindly-legged arrangements from the Putrefactio (2020) series. Processes of composition and decomposition, as suggested by the title, were simultaneously active in these works through the molding together of various organic and inorganic materials, including (but not limited to) hemp, beeswax, thread, copper rods, rotten fruit and dried tree branches, medical bandages, lava rock and charcoal powder.
The series is united by the recurring motif of a hollowed-out mantel clock hosting iPod nano fragments suspended from a little chain in the clocks’ blackened interior. The dismembered iPods looked a little like relics safely stored inside a reliquary. In a world of fast-moving technological advancement, it is not far-fetched to say that this device is relatively ancient, somewhat of a relic itself. As I leaned in for a closer look, instead of ticking time I half-expected to hear the soft thud of a miniature beating heart. Giroud-Delorme has stated his interest in measuring time from the body perspective. In this sense, heartbeat paces the body and is inextricable from its undulating rhythms, including the moment of death when the heart grinds to a final halt. It is much unlike the way we conceive of time as abstracted, evenly-spaced second, minute and hour intervals that never stop ticking on indifferent to our existence.
Another mysterious many-limbed creature – Top up Bottom Down, Eros is a switch (2021) – hung from the ceiling and was anchored to the floor by a couple of euro coins. Here again, an assortment of organic and inorganic materials were entwined and suspended in action.
The whole space was charged with a sense of intimacy, eroticism or some just-fulfilled desire of the flesh. The ripped fishnet tights, black tie and BDSM mouth gag adorning Giroud-Delorme’s pieces gave the impression that I had just walked into the aftermath of a very eventful night during which several bodies had encountered and thoroughly explored each other’s curves and crevices, traversing a very fine line between pleasure and pain. This feeling was further intensified by a purple condom and a Burgundy red wine spill pushing out against the glass frame in Regional Manifestation X (2021). As I walked around on the red floor, given the artists’ affection for the gothic and the grotesque, I couldn’t help but make the association with blood and bodily interiority. The building used, after all, to be a midwifery school where thousands of babies had been birthed – a space of messy reproductive labour, a para-genous space if you will.
The whole space was charged with a sense of intimacy, eroticism or some just-fulfilled desire of the flesh
Sophie Soobramanien’s video work I’m so excited iii (set experiment) (2020) appealed to the auditory as much as the visual. An unknown voice speaking over a cover version of The Pointer Sisters’ well-known song I’m so excited read out erotic literature. At the same time, Soobramanien’s figure clothed in all-black (naturally!) and positioned within a life-size drawing of a lobby layered over a living room, disinterestedly dances along while taking off some of her clothes. “Just the tip,” reads the voice. “And she looked over her shoulder at her boyfriend Tommy and, “I told you,” she said, “You’re not putting that thing in my ass,” the voice continued. “I won’t, I just wanted to press the tip against your asshole and come inside you that way.” Then, “He had made her come so hard with that thick cock pumping her pussy. “OK,” she relented, “But just the tip.””
In this looping work, all the elements feel uncomfortable with each other, creating a sense of alienation within a narrative about physical intimacy. In another setting, one might have gotten pulled into the story and perhaps allowed themselves to get turned on by mental images of throbbing penises, penetration and orgasming bodies, but not here, where the reader’s voice persists monotonously while the artist, blank-faced and half-heartedly, swings her hips to the song’s beat against a nondescript background.
Soobramanien’s other video work, bloodchild as erotica (2022) was installed in a corner of one of the building’s underbellies – a small storage room filled with yoga mats, meditation cushions and an assortment of things that I couldn’t see very well in the dark. The hardly visible outlines of the plumbing system running through it made it feel like I was stepping into a large creature’s gut – another obscure para-genous space reserved for digestion.
bloodchild as erotica recalls Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel Bloodchild in which humans strike a delicate relationship of interdependence and sometimes intimacy with a parasitic alien race. Familial and romantic ties between species are explored. In the video, the artist overlays footage of herself having a video call with her parents, followed by animated porn, on top of footage of flickering lights signalling metro stops. Once again, a sense of alienation pervades the work. The portrayed familial and sexual intimacy do not quite match up. The metro lights are reminiscent of fast-paced and lonely lives lived in the metropolis. Next stop is where you get off to go home after a long day at work. Tonight after dinner you’ll call your mum, maybe masturbate, then fall asleep and wake up tomorrow to do it all over again.
There is one more work in the exhibition, created collaboratively by Soobramanien and Giroud-Delorne that can be quite easily overlooked. Soobramanien’s family photo and a piece of creeping dried seaweed are attached with gold pins to the curtain shielding the inside from the outside (another para-genous space?). A small hole in the curtain allows a few rays of daylight to furtively infiltrate the room. Speaking to Antonin, who happened to be in the space on the day of my visit, I found out that he and Sophie had been introduced by Mutter’s initiators and the exhibition came about as the result of many conversations. “We didn’t want it to be matter of me putting in a bunch of works in the space and Sophie doing the same,” I’m told. And you could tell that much thought had been put into how to work together and with the space.
Mutter is an Amsterdam-based art platform initiated by Nuno Beijinho, Katy Hundertmark and Rodrigo Red Sandoval. Para-genous Bodies is the second exhibition presented by the platform.
is a writer and researcher