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Review of Cassie Raihl: Appetites at Dodge Gallery, New York

The pedestal is a sort of prosthesis for objects; it is their feet, their legs. It gives an object strength, lifts it up. Cassie Raihl’s first solo show, Appetites, at Dodge Gallery comprises of variations on the pedestal, negating and reinventing it, while hinting strongly at a more pervasive theme of obsession: bodily perfection and its consequences. Raihl’s sculptures furtively render the object and the pedestal as one unit, precluding any hierarchy of value between the two. Not only do the pedestals depart from typical models (Raihl’s are cast in various foams, opposed to the usual wooden pedestals), but their imperfections engender a lovely distinction from the object they are paired with. Taken as an entire body of work, Appetites is an adroit evaluation of how (or why) hard bodies get hard.

Raihl’s selection of objects that are paired with the pedestals range from cheeky to trenchant, for instance a gag body builder print on an oversized t-shirt or a wax cast Monster energy drink can, to slick sheets of glass and elastic bands. These pairings point toward the processes through which people strive for the best results from their bodies. Whether it is an energy drink to boost productivity or exercise gear for toning the body to an attractive precision, the body as vessel is essential – Raihl is working with the unevenness of our obsessions with perfection through exercise, induced acceleration, and achievement of a sexy body. Whether it is an energy drink to boost productivity, gear for toning the body to attractive precision, or props vaguely familiar to BDSM situations, the body as vessel is essential: Raihl is working with the unevenness of our obsessions with perfection through exercise, acceleration, power, and achievement of the sexy body.

A series of striking wall sculptures also featured in the show are, perhaps, the best examples of Raihl’s engagement with bodily obsession. Hanging from the smooth rails are flaccid weights from dumbbells, more Monster energy drink cans, and sewn workout clothes. But it is important to keep in mind that everything is hand-wrought – Raihl creates a critique with no stance through her own obsessiveness regarding sculpture. There are no ready-mades to be found here, everything is manipulated. Similarly, her sculptures revolve around idealized manipulation of bodies, even though each sculpture is consistently flawed on its own terms. The tensions that are created by Raihl’s sculptures are a nod to our own insecurities, illuminating real anxieties of the current moment.

Raihl is preoccupied with the objects that lead to sexiness. Weight lifting, luna bars, energy drinks: these are the conceptual foundation of acquiring the sexiest body, or at least that is what is suggested to aspiring consumers and future hot-bodies. Raihl’s sculptures, however, have a sick appearance. The foam is never in a perfect cube, sometimes looking sickly and bubbling; the castings are multi-coloured, chipped, and sometimes nauseating; sports-bras are mutated and disfigured. Raihl takes the dichotomy of sexy/not-sexy to describe an intense process that some people choose to go through. To call them dystopian would be unfair and to call them utopian would be unrealistic, but there are certainly elements of both –’topian’ ideals present in the work. As was mentioned above, there is no clear stance that Raihl takes, but it is clear that she is saying something. And this is perhaps what is so nice about the work: it has started a conversation that waits readily for a response.

Cassie Raihl: Appetites, 11 July until 16 August, Dodge Gallery, 15 Rivington Street, New York, NY 10002. dodge-gallery.com

Credits:

1. Cassie Raihl, Final Attempt, 2013. Courtesy Dodge Gallery
2. Cassie Raihl, Kettle One, 2013. Courtesy Dodge Gallery

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