Curator for Santina Amato’s installation Re-Perform, including a handwritten scroll and activating the dough works.
Governor’s Island Art Fair, New York, NY
by Ally Pockrass
When Santina asked me to do a piece of writing in response to her installation here at Governor’s Island Art Fair, we both thought that it would be a simple curatorial statement or a short creative essay. But it turned out that our artistic concerns were more similar than we realized.
Dough is one of the oldest forms of sustenance, along with beer, predating (and inciting the need for) agriculture. Yeast, the leavening and fermentation agent, is a naturally occurring fungus, found on the hulls of wheats and grains, as well as on many other plants and even humans. Dough has sensual qualities, with it’s sweet brewing smell, it’s soft yet strong texture, its curves, bumps, bubbles, and natural impulses. In Ancient Greece, dough was shaped into phallic forms and baked hard, not for eating but for dildos called olisbo-kollix. Dough relates directly with the human body, hard and soft, slits, flakes, curves, alive, dying, reproducing, growing, shrinking, consuming and being consumed. Kneaded and needed.
Amato’s work uses sensuality — of dough and of human relations — to seduce her viewer into a space that ends up being quite critical of its surrounding. The dough works seem to dominate both Amato’s practice, as well as her audience’s understanding of her work. It was not coincidental that the voluptuous sculptures utilizing the most traditional products of feminine domestic labor were put in the kitchen instead of a bedroom, attic, front porch, or living room. One is not assaulted by dough in the foyer or hall closet (though by the end of the fair one might be assaulted by the smell of the fermenting dough).
One doesn’t make dough like they would make a batch of paint. Making dough, especially at the amounts that Amato does — and housewives do on a regular basis — takes the whole body, energy, and strength. The serene results of slowly rising dough, a static sculpture, a fruit fly nibbling at the crusty surface, or in Amato’s other works, of her or her subjects resting among the dough are results of driving the body to a physical limit. They are the results of artistic labor rooted in domesticity and survivalism.
The paintings and video further question our assumptions of materials and human bodies. They echo the curves of the sculpture, the movement and color of the dough, while continuing to question what constitutes material, desire, relationships, hierarchies, identity, and self=determination. The writing scattered throughout the space is a direct response to the installation.
The combination of the selected works in the withering kitchen creates a calm, yet critical environment, a welcome change from the fast-paced lives many of us are living.