The titles of Andrea Crespo’s solo shows seem to clamber along, tangled up in Greek roots: “virocrypsis” (2015), “polymorphoses” (2015), “sis: somatic systems” (2015). Nerdy but sleek, high-tech but strangely ancient—this is gangly language, the diction of a precocious child. Indeed, much of Crespo’s work springs from a place of fidgeting adolescence, with its obsessions, revelations, betrayals and trials—trials made all the more punishing for those who are trans. The dramas of individuation acquire a dire aspect when one happens to be a “they.”
“They”—the preferred pronoun for many gender-nonconforming people—throws the door open onto new ontological vistas, blasting apart our notions of the subject. The old battle between the lone psyche and the swarming mass seems to have been collapsed, or at least complicated: the use of “they” seems doubly insurrectionary in these years of rapacious hypercapitalism and its individualist myths. Virocrypsis (2015), part of Crespo’s solo exhibition at the Swiss Institute, forges a narrative out of this pronominal trick. A scanner’s bright light sweeps across the screen with a bit of crackle and fuzz, only to reveal a manicured white hand smashed up against the glass. A patch of text glimmers in the corner:
Here is born the noble empress rich
All philosophers say she and her daughter are one.
She multiplies and gives birth to countless children
What follows is the fractious autobiography of a two-headed anime girl with three legs and hands for feet. They delight in their mutations, with their two faces craned in towards each other, their body an unbreakable autoerotic embrace. Scenes flash and coruscate: a cracked glass screen, a cell being punctured by a syringe, a petri dish glinting in a lab. The two-headed girl fades into the picture, narrating the scene with dialogue sometimes attributed to one head, sometimes voiced in a kind of mutant unison: “It worked?!”
Queer sensibility and a sensuous appreciation of the flotsam of Internet life
Symbiosis, community, inner conflict, the ways that identities are confected and contrived: these are the concerns of Crespo’s work, which often centers on online communities like DeviantArt. These are places where the debris of pop and weirdo subcultures froth and congeal, giving rise to a kind of manga-fication of the soul. Affect is expressed flatly, with a cartoonish transparency—a reprieve from the friction and brooding ambiguities of a queer life lived in three dimensions.
But the virtue of Crespo’s work—one of them, anyway—is its rejection of the mediatized paralysis that marks so much art that takes the Internet as its subject, medium,or major motif. There is no slack-jawed irony or glazed detachment. Instead, one finds in attracting… (2015) and patient(s) history (2015), digital prints on cotton sateen, a kind of digitized tendresse and subtle melancholy. Crespo’s affection for anime figures—their blinking, pointed faces floating in abstract space, redolent of innocence and eroticism—might be an ennobled kind of camp. The marks of that quaint, queer sensibility—its love of bygone things, its delectation in surfaces—manifest themselves in parabiosis (2015) as a sensuous appreciation of the flotsam of Internet life. The hashtags, the platitudes, the bold, perhaps empty assertions of personal identity—“you are multiple,” a message reads—these are all little talismans for the furtive rituals of geeky obsession. #actuallyautistic, #neurodiversity, #queer—these tags scroll at the bottom of the screen like a news ticker. There is pathos here; we would do well not to pathologize it.
Andrea Crespo (American, b. 1993) is an artist who lives and works in New York. She is represented by Hester, New York, and Kraupa Tuskany Zeidler, Berlin.
After a recent solo exhibition at the Swiss Institute, New York, Andrea Crespo’s work is currently part of the group exhibition “From Minimalism Into Algorithm” at The Kitchen, New York, through 2 April.
Anthony Haslett is a writer who lives in New York.
Image: Multi (sensorygates), detail, 2015. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York.