November 14, 2018 – January 18, 2020
The magnetism of Florencia Escudero’s new soft sculptures, exhibited in her first New York solo exhibition at Kristen Lorello, is felt at first glimpse. Her seductive materials—lustrous velvet, black pleather, jewel-toned satin, and spandex—are at once sumptuous and garish; they are the fabric of every storied, fast-fashion night out. They beg to be caressed and ultimately, to be acquired. They are as covetable as they are otherworldly, presenting severed and multiplied limbs clad in plush thorns, or featuring, among a multitude of carefully considered details, curly black eyelashes embedded in resin.
Previously, Florencia Escudero has hauled her soft sculptures to a love hotel in New Jersey (one can imagine a car packed with hands, legs, and a buttock or two, driving back and forth through the Holland Tunnel), where she proceeded to photograph them against an array of tacky, themed interiors. Escudero’s present exhibition suggests that these sculptures are just as (if not more) effective when displayed within a white gallery interior. There, under blank, bright lighting, the objects’ imperfect curves and sutured seams burst with narrative, and their uncanny energy achieves new potency. Indeed, the contrast between these sculpture-creatures and their surroundings seems to unite them as a group and facilitate their internal, subversive dialogues.
The exhibition includes seven foam-filled sculptures, each of which is painstakingly crafted in a manner that reveals the artist’s physical dedication to her creative process. Her labors—some of which are traditionally associated with female domesticity—evoke personal gusto rather than solemn obligation. While stuffed and sewn fabric serves as the basis for these works, Escudero has also incorporated new technologies such as digital imaging, 3-D printing, and 3-D drawing. These mediums imbue her sculptures with a futuristic feel and enhance the impression of their having recently descended from another realm, landing together with panache in Kristen Lorello’s petite, single-room space.
The sculptures vary widely in form and their display. Lion’s Breath (2019), a red, hooded, bear-print cape of sorts, hangs against the wall from two metal hearts. The cape features organically shaped cut-outs that reveal three wing-like pillows hanging behind it, each printed with images of purple opera gloves. Hospital de Espejos (2019), a bamboo-antlered, vase-shaped sculpture with a furtive countenance on one side and fleshy blue buttocks on the other, perches atop a standard beige pedestal. Meanwhile, the fruit-shaped forms constituting Frog Licker (2019) rest closer to the ground on small stuffed stools upholstered in silvery-lilac velvet.
Despite their quirky formal differences, all works in the exhibition allude to the obligational adornment and objectification of female bodies. Women’s facial features, hair, lashes, legs, buttocks, and hands receive personal and public scrutiny. They are sexualized, made-up, lotioned, and perfumed, covered and uncovered to attract or dissuade others’ gazes. The sculptures also address accessories associated with the female body—purses, shoes, jewelry—which are read by men and women alike as signs of taste or wealth.
Reptilian Couture (2019) skillfully summarizes Escudero’s formal and thematic concerns, combining the dissected body and bodily adornment with hand and machine-made processes, while creating a compelling balance of weight, texture, image, and form. The sculpture comprises a cushion-like object which hangs against the wall from a large silver chain. Printed on the cushion is an image of five identical adjoining legs, clad hip-to-toe in metallic, royal blue spandex. Bent slightly at the knee, the legs form a vaguely trapezoidal, single entity, the exterior outline of which is piped with white velvet. Plush, turquoise thorns and lacey, neon-green flowers and butterflies dot the leg cluster, while laser-cut mirrors dangle from its bottom edge like charms from a bracelet. As the title suggests, the sculpture’s multiple legs and cold-blooded color lend it a reptilian air. And while it could ostensibly be carried beneath one’s arm, Reptilian Couture seems more likely to scurry away on the tips of its own toes.
Florencia Escudero’s oddly adept manipulations of human features and vestments has resulted in objects that are at once fantastical and eerily familiar or even friendly. Her objects are certainly not human, yet they possess curious little personalities that invite intimacy. I resisted the urge to snuggle them, to fondle their softly textured and vividly colored surfaces—much as I would have my favorite childhood stuffed toys.
Overall, these works are exceedingly mysterious and prompt self-questioning. Can we obtain the same comfort from a personable object that we might find in another human? Which body parts or inanimate objects make us feel secure, and why? As the boundary between in-person exchange and cyber culture erodes, how have our social/sexual needs evolved? It seems that Florencia Escudero has arrived at her own responses to the above queries, and that she has convincingly employed their physical manifestations.