Mark Fingerhut

Let's get the technicalities out of the way.
Chapter 4 is comprised of Jane Balfus, Ilya XO, Hannah Brown and Dakotah Weeks.
this is a reaction to their show at Mery Gates entitled "Strange Prayer"

i must be a part of a joke right now.

a 26 year old gamer/programmer ironic artworld asshole is confronted with the following items:
some coffee cups with handmade treats motionlessly suspended over the coffee inside
two tiny sculpted lovers in recline who would crumble if handled incorrectly
a video of an androgynous cowboy traversing scaffolding in an unused warehouse room

whats a troll to do?
darest I approach these items as my past self?
a romantic yet-to-be-disillusioned 21 year old boy who falls in love so easily?
am I ready and willing to explore these feelings again?
to let myself be charmed by delicate things, small drawings of fantasized self-portraits and those tiny meaninglessful moments that will eventually be painful to recall?
it wasnt like i had a choice LOL, I was in it and when I was asked to write this review, there was truly no escape

chapter 4 is comprised of artists in their early twenties
i don't know about you, but my early twenties art career was a naive cringe tornado of misplaced earnestness...
but there is nothing naive about this show
the artists, while young, are completely aware of how they are presenting here
unable to escape non-consensual sexualization through the observation of their physical forms, they present a view of young femininity that knows exactly what it is
a true collective, ego dissolves here into a group-think of small things, small moments and thoughts
small gifts given over coffee, small jokes told in the morning, small frozen moments of seeing each other in yawns, sneezes, laughs and sleeps

these are the building blocks of love, and love is of course what lies at the center of the show

dripping onto the floor is a chandelier made entirely of wax, a brilliant and haunting reminder that decoration and illumination itself will fall to darkness in time
one day they may wake up next to you and it will all be gone
so funny, such a comforting thought to be reminded of
it made me so happy to think about that
so much joy in that moment

of course, there is the bold show of technical ability, the grotto
water flows up a tube and out of an old medusa's mouth, back into the basket from whence it came
my primary interest lies in the color of the water. That is what my heart is drawn to
a deep, dark blue. Or green?
the color of a bruise
the color of a gusher
the color of steel (but not actually the color of steel)
my mind goes to a piece of Ilya's writing, in which they describe homer using "wine dark sea", for his language does not supply a word for "blue"
the color of that water is a triumph and I love it

being involved in video myself, i felt myself drawn to the videos projected on the back wall

in one, a cowboy presents a tantalizing option of identity, a soft and thoughtful masculinity
they are literally showing us how to navigate a structure made of elemental material, wood and steel
showing us how a body can bend, balance and overcome such boyish materials, or the city, or ambition
a pared down take of david byrne's protagonist from true stories, this recorded performance reflects on the beauty of navigation itself
a sense of exploration on what could be called a jungle gym provided by what could be called a frontiersman

in another, the artists mark their territory, claiming the gallery space as their own, not unlike marking a neck of a mate, or leaving a toothbrush in a lover's bathroom
they are making a claim to a space, literally seeing how their bodies will fit, what limits it presents, and how they can contort to express themselves within it
to me, a battle-worn "seen-it-all-before" piece of shit, this read as the most "classically naive", as if a gallery context was inherently antagonistic towards them, a setting in which they felt the need to show dominance

moving on through the space...

a row of coffee cups sits on a ledge
those tiny moments shared over coffee, the little conversations, the jokes, hazy thoughts of the day ahead
each one in succession suggesting a continued relationship of coffees, a pattern of special mornings, the beginning of a relationship
of course, these objects must be memorialized as art because these moments dont last forever, they become rote, common place, common events for common people
so it's nice to be reminded that those moments exist for others

the painting of a devil-child rejecting a shining hand as a child would reject a spoon-turned-plane of peas
ok, I see you, cursed child
my favorite word in any language is the word for "no"
saying no is the most powerful thing you can do and according to Camus, it is the essence of a rebel
so what if the hand is blessed? So what if I am a demon-child who probably needs it?
im a person, I can say no
if i cant say no, what do i even have? do i even exist?

i dont want the blessed hand

there is a hole in the floor of mery gates
a tiny little thing, but in strange prayer there is an entire shining world under the floorboards
expressing itself as a mote of light peeking through the hole, it denies you so much
we are on the membrane of... what is it? heaven? "true love"?
something warm i bet...
we are so close, standing on top of it
the feeling of longing i felt while standing over that light...
maybe its just me (but this is my essay) but damn... it denied me

i feel like denial is at the core of the show, alongside the notes of innocence and love
at the end of the day, 'strange prayer' does not bend to your desires
it shows you facades of comfort, of love, of affection, of belonging
however, in materiality or in context, the promises of such are shown to be unfullfillable, or straight up denied
positioning themselves as pranksters of femininity, i eagerly await watching chapter 4 grow into their role and continue to unrelentingly subvert the expectations placed upon them