Cindy Ji Hye Kim
Have we now reached the crux of the matter, and is this the end of the road? We are beginning to be at a loss for words: they become confused, meandering, and raving. And yet it is beyond these words that the description of that unbelievable, immense spring must begin. The miracle of dusk! Again, the power of our magic has failed and the dark element that cannot be embraced is roaring somewhere beyond it. Words are split into their components and dissolved, they return to their etymology, re-enter their depths and distant obscure roots. This process is to be taken literally. For it is getting dark, our words lose themselves among unclear associations: Acheron, Orcus, the Underworld…Do you feel darkness seeping out of these words, molehills crumbling, the smell of cellars, of graves slowly opening? What is a spring dusk? We ask this question once more, the fervent refrain of our quest that must remain unrewarded.
When the tree roots want to speak, when under the turn a great many old tales and ancient sagas have been collected, when too many whispers have been gathered underground, inarticulate pulp and dark nameless things that existed before words—then the bark of trees blackens and disintegrates into thick, rough scales which form deep furrows. You dip your face into that fluffy fur of dusk, and everything becomes impenetrable and airless like under the lid of a coffin. Then you must screw up your eyes and bully them, squeeze your sight through the impenetrable, push across the dull humus—and suddenly you are at your goal, on the other side; you are in the Deep, in the Underworld. And you can see.
Em Kettner’s sculptures joyously reimagine the disabled body. She works at the scale of an outstretched hand, fashioning figures in glazed porcelain whose forms act as support structures for tiny tapestries handwoven from thread. In turn, these textiles hold the ceramics in place, a mutual interlocking that speaks to wider themes of caregiving and interdependence.
“There’s power in embracing your own smallness and fragility,” Kettner has stated, “and insisting others delight in these conditions as well.” The works carry an aspect of the talisman, the charm, the relic—objects whose smallness endows them with auras of significance rather than diminishment. The woven wrappings are evidence of loving care and act as a kind of costuming, expanding upon or hiding aspects of a physique. These wrappings protect, cushion, and embellish in equal measure. Drawing on deeply held traditions of craft, the works embody a kind of devotion that in ancient times was reserved only for the holy and transcendent.
Across the show, the sickbed serves as a recurring icon. Furniture legs and human limbs commingle, heads sprout left and right, stray genitals pop up through the covers. Throughout, Kettner puts forward the sickbed as a place of joy, eroticism, and togetherness. Figures constantly merge into each other, their limits dissolving into patterns as they meld with a lover, a bed frame, a cane, a hand mirror. These moments of hybridity play on historical tropes that cast disabled bodies as totemic half-animal gods or demons— images that may project power yet ultimately dehumanize. On another level, the sculptures illuminate the systems of support that disabled people rely on, whether they be designed, like a prosthesis, railing, or wheelchair, or social, like another person lending an arm along a flight of stairs. Kettner’s many limbed figures point to a crucial expansiveness within disability thinking. We never end at our edges.