Alina Tenser: A Particular Kind Of Embrace

18 Feb 2022 – 19 Mar 2022

Regular hours

11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00
11:00 – 18:00

Free admission

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Hesse Flatow is pleased to present A Particular Kind of Embrace, Alina Tenser’s second solo exhibition with the gallery.


Tenser’s work across sculpture, video, and performance examines how bodies engage with objects in response to the possibilities for activation that we detect in an object’s form. While the clean lines of Tenser’s sculptures, often fabricated in industrial materials like steel or plastic, connote minimalism, her intellectual kinship is with what came after: work that blunted minimalism’s masculinism by returning the legible human body, or at least its trace, to art. For Tenser, paramount among these practices would be conceptualism, which didn’t so much eschew the object altogether as introduce rigorous processes of investigation that opened art’s scope beyond formal concerns, invited the viewer’s mental engagement, and forced a reckoning with exclusionary structures of power. We sense, for instance, the lesson that  subjectivity, like language, is not intrinsic but constructed through social relation, as Martha Rosler showed in her cerebral Semiotics of the Kitchen (1975) which features the artist behind a kitchen counter, narrating the violent or futile functionality of assorted kitchen utensils. Psychologist Silvan Tomkins likewise considered the relational construction of the self in his bodily-rooted theory of affect, or experienced emotion. As he wrote in a citation that exemplifies the reciprocal nature of adjacency, and from which Tenser takes this show’s title, “If you like to feel enclosed within a claustrum and I like to put my arms around you, we can both enjoy a particular kind of embrace.”

In A Particular Kind of Embrace, Tenser presents two bodies of work: the Parentheses and the Containers for Utterances, each accompanied by related drawings. In their vernacular forms, both parentheses and bins for household organization can be described as utilitarian vessels: one sets aside or accentuates a piece of information, while the other preserves and makes sense of accumulated things. In Tenser’s hands, however, the vessel is unconventional and non-utilitarian because it is willfully leaky. What it contains is open to interpretation. Meaning shifts this way and that, as we shift in relation to the work. The stacked boxes of Tenser’s Containers for Utterances are stitched together with a single, continuous zipper, their sides comprised of a clear plastic skin that is transparent to vision. Through it we see Cyrillic letterforms in cast concrete that occupy some of the compartments; the letters play with naming and subject-object distinctions, such as the pairing of “ю,” which sounds like “you,” with “я,” which translates to “I.” The works’ play with subjecthood and semiotics arises from Tenser’s memory of her own experience compartmentalizing her first language in order to learn English. Wall-mounted Containers hung several inches above the floor remain empty as if afloat. The other body of work Tenser presents here, the Parentheses, are pairs of curved, freestanding armatures made of steel woven through with satin ribbon. The configuration of the ribbon’s path in a Parenthesis mirrors that of its partner. Standing at human scale, they demarcate yawning oblong spaces that visitors can traverse in the gallery. At one moment we pause inside their embrace, at another moment we are beside them. As we circle around the Parentheses, they encircle us. 

In a departure from her previous work, Tenser stays the performative function of her sculptures. She invites us not to touch but rather to visualize how her works’ capacity to move or change shape might guide our interactions with them, thus transforming the architectural space of the gallery into a stage primed for activation. Our dance with Tenser’s work creates a perpetual state of revolving. When we circumnavigate the Parentheses or envision unzipping the Containers for Utterances, we are in physical or mental movement according to a set of possible actions that Tenser’s works propose. Diagrammatic drawings called Potential Choreographies advocate for the open-ended nature of the Parentheses’ permutations and of our entanglements with them, while the doubled-over marker line of the Folder Drawings model her zippers’ paths. In Potential Choreography 8, three sets of bisected semicircles in purple, pink, and neon yellow sit, offset but still facing each other, along a white whiplash line. Neither separate nor attached, each semicircle is both a single entity and two distinct parts. The space between them awaits filling and, at the same time, is already replete with the warmth of the paper substrate’s fibers. These curved notations hover, as if suspended in dual states of attraction and repulsion, while arrows propose their rotation clockwise or counterclockwise. 

To rotate, to revolve. Perhaps the only certainty is revolution: the circular gesture of Tenser’s handwork through her minute stitches adhering zipper to plastic; the reciprocal turn of the gallery viewer’s footwork alongside a steel Parenthesis, which can likewise rotate on its wheels; the fact that the earth continues to follow its path around the sun. This perpetual state of revolving is not what most people imagine when they think of “revolution.” And yet, even as the earth—that vessel for so many brief and precarious lives—repeats its certain orbit, it returns never the same, just as choreographer Lucinda Childs never returned her dancers to their point of origination. Childs’s goal, she said, was to “rearrange [a composition] in such a way that you constantly are presented with material from a different point of view, the idea being that you essentially dislodge the audience from perceiving anything from any one way.” As open vessels, Tenser’s Parentheses and Containers for Utterances destabilize and remake given relations. Through them, the artist offers pathways to feel toward alternate circuits of knowledge.

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Alina Tenser


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