Entry # 6 02.12.2021

From Peachy Bottoms to Seashells Escapism

Lorraine Vaney
Ksenia Khmelnitskaya - I will be listening to seashells when I get back from work.
Part of Sticky Flames/ Bodies, Objects and Affects, Co-Curated by Nadina Faljic and Mnemozine.
On view at Casino Display until the 5.12.2021.
Photo by Charles Rouleau

By valuing the experience of vulnerability, Sticky Flames/ Bodies, Objects and Affects warms me up on a cold November day.

I missed the buzzy vernissage; the Instagram posts and stories I stalked from afar suggested a promising exhibition, praised by a curious and diverse crowd. I realized I haven’t been diving in the social ecosystem of vernissages in a long time, and booked a train ticket to Luxembourg the day after.

The train takes me through ghost towns, lying bored and soaked in the borderland between Metz and the gallery. It’s a cold and melancholic ride. However, upon arrival, the mellow light of the gallery swept away the apathy and the raindrops on my shoulders.

The themes are best felt in the silence of a solitary promenade through the artworks - gender, sexuality, self-worth, labour and depression: a delicate programme brought together by five young artists and curators Nadina Faljic and Mnemozine.

I catch myself thinking about all the galleries which may, voluntarily or not, push back people because of a curation that rejects more than it includes, drawing out complexes of not-belonging that some passersby may feel, and thus failing to share their work and message with new audiences. On the contrary, Sticky Flames feels like an invitation to be part of the art and its making.

As I rub my finger on carefully chosen fabrics, pass by the penetrating gazes of modern muses, listen to an unknown voice whispering straight to my ear and to the sounds of seashells, the senses awaken and the urge for sensuality intensifies. The rooms embody five intimate stories, ranging from pleasantly gentle to borderline fierce. No artifice, pretension or vanity to be found here.

Straight from the doorstep, the peachy and cheeky theme of Alexander Caretti’s installation sets the tone with softness. The artist shares his explorations of masculinities through his letters, pyjamas, duvet and futon of his own bedroom: a candid message, tainted with a sense of wrongdoing, calling for introspection.

Bruno Oliveira’s baroque-looking photographic series of the local LGBTQ+ community has a more outward take. His portraits showcase strong cultural archetypes, from a lusty Eve lying in a plastic blue bath to the shibari arms of a devout Madonna. The palette of emotions - anger, boredom, pleasure, confidence, ecstasy - fragmented on the bold bordeaux walls of the room, emphasise the grandeur of a scenography borrowed from the Louvre.

In contrast with this opulent display, Joni Maus’ room feels like a sensory deprivation tank.  I am the artist say the white walls of the empty room. Art expresses itself only through a voice, dematerialized. “What happens between you and the room is up to you” concludes Maus’ monologue on its journey, flowing between masculinity and femininity. I couldn’t help but touch the walls, like a lifeline in the vacuum, grasping the touch of the absence, before climbing up to a colorful room.

There, Darja Linder playfully exposes her feminist gaze on male attitudes, beyond clichés and stereotypes. In a glittery flash of yellow, blue and pink paint, camp replaces codes. Her work twists gender norms with ease and humor, freshening the air and cheering up the audience mid-way through their visit. Suddenly, I am called on by the airy noise I hear coming from the last room.

I cringe (and I love cringing). On the floor, I see stickers of those silly, tacky and instagrammable quotes for business lovers and hopeless dreamers: “Work hard now and chill later”; “Be brave”; “My dream of paradise is now my reality” and some more trash-pills we swallow daily on the internet. In this fakery, Knesia Khmelnitskaya whispers a soothing statement: “I will be listening to seashells when I get back from work”.

In the heart of a country full of workaholics, Sticky Flames is a healing and sensorial walk through the insecurities of our times. It is topical, humane and subjective at the same time. The artists posit their work as a hand reaching outside the frame of determinism and labels, letting the audience find their own interpretation in the mosaic of bodies, gazes, touches, sounds and emotions, blurring the lines between what is theirs, and what is ours.︎

Lorraine Vaney is a writer and critic from France. She’s into words, bodies, and everything in between: as long as there is room to discuss, explore and play.
If you want to read, here is her portfolio: lorrainevaney
If you want to stalk, here is her instagram: @lorrainevny

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