Entering the sunlit room at the far end of Goldfinch, one comes upon a more-than-real encounter with a room full of bodies, dancing, wildly swinging, flinging their arms in all directions. After a year of no access to sweating, swinging bodies on Chicago's once-filled dance floors, "Unheeding" is cathartic, almost ecstatic in its initial impact. McCarthy's sculptures feel like friends you once knew and like faces you haven't seen in a long time.
If one were to abide by the social-distancing protocols required for art viewing during the pandemic, a single viewer fulfills the maximum capacity of the room as soon as they enter. Each of McCarthy's hybrid bodies discard their bone and bodily boundaries, celebrating the peculiarity of their personalities through an amalgamation of material self-determination and through surface textures, glazes and patterns that distinguish each character from the other. "Shaper II" holds the far-right corner of the floor, while "Thruster II" and "Swinger II" libidinously heighten the exchange between their own bodies, in relation to subjects that surround them. McCarthy's ability to parse between mental and bodily processes is translated in the way they enmesh themselves with clay and stoneware as earthly living material, capable of moving, pulsing and growing as much as they are capable of assembling, disassembling and reassembling the body as an organism. Configuration and reconfiguration here indicate the embodied making and unmaking of cultural and social frameworks at a time when, individually and collectively, so many of us are struggling to fit ourselves within preexisting normative and social codes.
The sculptures channel breath from their extremities. Hands and feet incorporate whistles that McCarthy has been working with over the past few years. The interest in performance, material agency and the materiality of the body with respect to the natural world moves viewers closer to considering human and non-human collaboration as processes that work in relation to one another. Earth-time, body-time and time-based intentional action inform one another in McCarthy's work, radically displacing the phenomenological notions of time as a singular experience.
McCarthy's creative practice is informed yet not limited to their work in sculpture. They have been a regular collaborator and mentor at Ox-bow (Michigan), Acre (Wisconsin) and the founding owner of GnarWare Workshop in Pilsen (Illinois). Working in an inter-contextual practice, one can easily begin to see how their perspectives on material histories, collaborative knowledge formation and outdoor earth-based ceramic firing process inspire those they come into contact with to think of material agency beyond object-oriented philosophy.
Porcelain and stoneware heads sit at eye level on surrounding walls. Each portrait bears a name-"Aurigae," "Atik," "Seif," "Miram," "Persei"-indicating the possibility that with each body exists a mind, capable of its own perceptual capacity. The idea of identity as a cerebral formation vis-à-vis the body as a conscious being beyond rationality is indicated in the titles of the works included in the show. In this literal displacement of bodies and heads, one can argue that the body carries with it its own knowledge, while our intellectual capacities can also exceed our bodily and physical experience of this life. Allowing us to move closer to connect to our carnal interiority, McCarthy allows us to think of ourselves as an extension of the natural world without having to fully control or even understand everything.
Awkwardly entangled, gnarled and impetuous, "Unheeding" is a fundamental experience in knowing and not-knowing the boundaries of our physical and imaginative existence while placing us in the body of a dancer, making space for us to feel the self and the other in simultaneity while we collectively navigate the unknown. (Pia Singh)
"Liz McCarthy: Unheeding," Goldfinch Gallery, 319 North Albany, through February 20.