Carol Scavotto’s recent show Dialogues offered up several bodies of work, each of them bodily in some way. Displaying her work alongside the similarly visceral sculptor Kelly Zélen, Scavotto collaged together Frankenpeople from photographs (appropriated and original), fabrics, hair, thread, mirrors and even chunks of Barbie dolls. While there wasn’t much spatial interaction between Zelen and Scavotto (their work occupied separate sides of the gallery), the latter’s menagerie of strange human forms busily chatted among themselves: talking on the phone, posing for the camera, dressing down, dressing up.
The body was a central concern here, taking on shapes that mixed the actual with the imagined. Scavotto’s self-portraits were sliced up and combined with doll parts, colorful textiles, a wedding dress, or pages torn from articles or books. Her collage technique frequently expanded beyond the flat sheet of paper and, while remaining dependent on the wall, achieved a visible materiality and dimensionality.
Totally eschewing typical human proportions, many of these creations appeared both grotesque and sweet —as incarnations, perhaps, of distorted desires and wishes. Consider the preposterously tall and bigheaded bourgeois woman in Treat Me Like A Dog Please!!!!, her physique (and chest-strapped dog carrier) towering over a scene of urban poverty. Or, in Got Milk, and a Whole Lot More!!!!, three lasses became supermodels of the dairy aisle, their milk-bottle bodies discombobulated and awkward.
The doll faces alternated between creepy and cute, and sinister undercurrents lurked beneath our initial looking. Social commentary appeared either in an explicit form (cobbled together from mediated texts) or more subtly, as in You Too Can Be a Model. A hybrid doll/woman hunched over in a chair, browsing a preteen girl “for sale,” available “daily” or “hourly.” Is this a moment of aspiration, pity, curiosity, horror? Or does Scavotto depict a potential customer, fuming at our interrupting her purchase?
Themes of relationship (social and personal) permeated the exhibit, even if Scavotto’s characters often seem to exist in solitude, surrounded by dolls, mirrors or simply their own anxieties and doubts. Take Enter to Exit #1, where we see a woman from behind, preening herself in the mirror. In the
looking glass a doll stares back, cold-faced and curly-haired, the self- image this woman presumably desires. But why? And for whose benefit?
Ultimately our best efforts at bodily perfection might not satisfy ourselves, or those we seek to swoon. The installation Final Kiss invited the audience to apply some lipstick, pucker up, and kiss a mirror. Scavotto asked that participants reflect on a person no longer alive or accessible while smooching, with the kiss a memento or memorial to this absence. This simple yet profound act vividly contrasted the bedlam of bodies on display, whose volatility could imply any number of emotional or physical states.
The kiss is often invoked in pop music as a kind of ritual act, a lovers’ pact. Here, it was the viewer’s own lips —thin or plump, perhaps misshapen or uneven— that incanted this vulnerability. Our bodies can speak when words will not or cannot work, pointing to truths both ecstatic and unsettling. The inhabitants of Scavotto’s dark and colorful world wear these revelations on their bodies.