words Tania KetenjianSensate: Bodies and Design, Henry Urbach’s latest show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, packs much into its small punch. The first of its three galleries is a kind of living room of the body, a dim, intimate, slightly eerie space. Here are gathered design works based on the skeleton, including Oscar Niemeyer’s Vertebrae Chair, an assemblage of bones, and John Dickinson’s Bone Cigarette Table and Floor Lamp.
Moving on, an invasive noise grows, coming from Alex Schweder’s A Sac of Rooms All Day Long. Made specially for this exhibition and taking up half of the large second gallery, it’s a house made of clear vinyl with a second house inflating and deflating within it. The houses inflate at different speeds, morphing and pressing against each other, like a pregnant belly, growing and breathing.
The disquieting hum of the fans, like the snore of a sleeping giant, is accompanied by a sound piece of the fans remixed into an irregular heartbeat: unexpected, uncomfortable and foreboding. This being San Francisco, the performance is suggestive of a slow earthquake, in which a living space, thought to be permanent, is in fact constantly at risk.
Urbach compared this to the malleable walls in Roman Polanski’s Repulsion, a film with a similar sense of unreality. Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, in which drug-addled characters watch their surroundings disintegrate also comes to mind. Similarly plastic is another commissioned piece, P_Wall by Andrew Cudless, “a wall with love handles, a wall with orifices, a wall with stretch marks”.
Sensate straddles the fine divide between uncomfortable and inviting. It does precisely what it says on the tin, it stimulates.
Sensate runs until 8 November