There they are again, the revolving doors whirl back into her life, spinning her through the entrance of The Hunterian. Turning back, Ms Real takes a photo to record her spinning. She doesn’t realise where she’s been until she gets to the other side. If you slam a revolving door, does it spin faster? She wonders to herself. Traversing this one feels like trudging through a thick mud, like going through a big golden department store one as a child, where you must reach your arms right up, your body at a forty-five-degree angle, and really go for it to get it to move much at all. A little pink face really trying to get somewhere. A parent sharing your segment, shuffling behind you, hands also on the door ahead, doing the greatest part of the shoving really and trying not to step on any toes till you both burst through into another air.
Upstairs in the group show, Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, her stomach throbbing from the mountain of kimchi cheese fries she gobbled down at lunch, Ms Real stares through a Tamara Henderson sculpture. An invigilator, who she presumes male is loudly monologuing to two younger invigilators, who she presumes both female. She walks around the corner to a row of Paolozzi prints that make her eyes whirr just as one of the younger invigilators taps her on the shoulder to tell her that she can’t have her coffee in here. After ambitiously placing her coffee down by the door to collect later when she leaves, the invigilator tells her again to remove it. Feeling her face warming to an uneasy pink, Ms Real stomps downstairs to a bin at reception, stomps back up, now with all her concentration withered and her brimming stomach begging for a bench.
Feeling really done in now and recalling all exasperation after reading Alexander Kennedy this morning, Ms Real remembers an article by Martin Herbert, a critique of the use of I in critical writing, and slops into a hazy pile at his sarcastic suggestion that we adopt a third-person—Didion did the second after all, he chaffs—so why not push it to the next level, scribe? Ms Real rolls her eyes and stretches out relieved and queasy on the leather bench in front of a large Joan Eardley painting of Catterline and imagines her blowing around in a stormy gale on the beach streaming sand and oils across the wide and sturdy canvas. She reaches for her phone in the bottom of her bag and begins to tap out notes in the hope that they will soon become something of substance on a larger screen then printed out and read by others.
Her mind wanders back upstairs to the Loie Hopwell painting ‘Squeezed Cheeks’ which is replicated on the front cover of the plush exhibition booklet. The furry brushstrokes that curve red around circular yellow forms have lodged in her mind. The male co-curators describe them as ‘swollen’ and Ms Real’s stomach rises again. She imagines lying beneath a naked standing figure, their buttocks pressed together, the warm shadow of labia pressed together, and at the top, a firm knot, here painted as a large flat black dot. To the co-curators the dot suggests ‘a puncture release’. Ms Real raises her eyebrows. The clitoris as puncture? How Lacanian of these men to describe a clitoral orgasm as a ‘puncture release’. It’s about sex, it’s about birth! HA! Her own release accrues several sharp looks. She shuffles across the seat, her own swollen forms squeaking slightly against the shiny leather and continues to read the booklet.
Preceding the introduction is a skinless body walking, a medical illustration by William Cowper from 1694. Ms Real laughs again. Its right arm looks like it’s been left behind, hanging from a thick sinew labelled ‘C’. The exhibition has been organised by both The Hunterian and the David and Indre Roberts Collection and features works from both archives, spanning anatomical drawings from the 18th and 19th century to abstracted, collaged and reimagined bodily forms from the 20th and 21st century, Ms Real reads. She lingers on the co-curator’s offer that shoving two vastly different collections together allows us to ‘tease out these trajectories and connections’ while also highlighting ‘the sometimes stark contrasts.’ Isn’t it quite obvious that comparison will offer both similarities and differences, thinks Ms Real, she wonders about how the partnership came about and how the statement suggests that in actual fact the partnership is really the most important thing about the show for the co-curators.
Ms Real ponders over the quote from Jean-Luc Nancy which also precedes the introduction. ‘A body isn’t empty. It’s full of other bodies, pieces, organs […] It’s also full of itself: that’s all it is.’ This exhibition is full of itself, she smirks. In fact, every exhibition really is full of it itself: that’s all it is. Itself being many bodies, parts, organs, works, words, walls, technicians, invigilators, etc. ‘A body’s immaterial. It’s a drawing, a contour, an idea.’ She glances up from her phone notes and notices an easing in her belly. She rolls her head slowly, first clockwise then counter-clockwise, feeling her neck pieces pop and creak. Locking the phone with a click and easing it into her coat pocket, she stands and walks back towards the revolving door.
Flesh Arranges Itself Differently, The Hunterian Art Gallery, University of Glasgow, 14 January – 22 May 2022
Kimchi Cult, 14 Chancellor Street, Glasgow, G11 5QR
Alexander Kennedy, How Glasgow Stole the Idea of Contemporary Art: Collected Art Criticism (Glasgow: Daat Press, 2014)
Martin Herbert, ‘When Critics Use I’, Art Review. Accessed 13 July 2022 [https://artreview.com/when-critics-use-i/]
An extract from ALWAYS OPEN, ALWAYS CLOSED, Caitlin Merrett King, 2022