Installation view of Tarantallegra, 2016. All photographs courtesy of HESTER and the artists
If witchcraft were a profession, what would a practitioner’s workspace look like? This is the fascinating, if unorthodox, point of departure for Tarantallegra, an ongoing group exhibition at Lower East Side gallery, HESTER. The exhibition is designed to represent the “operational office of a present day enchantress” and functions “through a number of spells cast by 12 artists,” according to the exhibition’s curator Nicoletta Lambertucci. The ‘spells,’ or works, are laid out like ritualistic artifacts around and on top of a central table, itself a commissioned work by artist Beth Collar.
The title Tarantallegra originates from tarantella, an ancient upbeat folk dance from southern Italy believed to sweat out a tarantula bite when performed. The liveliness and buoyant nature of the dance serves as a primary source of inspiration for the exhibition, filtered through a lens of witchcraft as an imagined profession. At its core, “Tarantallegra is a joyful collaborative proposal for an investigation into feminine energy explored via labor,” Lambertucci tells The Creators Project.
Upon the pond-shaped wooden table sit a series of works mostly humble in size but imbued with powerful thematic strands. Some of them evoke the idea of body movement that is inherent to tarantella and Tarantallegra, like Allison Katz's Legs, a watercolor painting of isolated legs in different extended positions, and Liz Magic Laser's response to Katz’s piece, a scientific and sociological analysis of the body language within the original watercolor legs.
Other works in Tarantallegra feel more tied to ideas of ritual and ceremony, almost like ingredients for a witches' brew. Natalie Price Hafslund has created morbid bouillon cubes made of her own blood and wisdom teeth, mixed with more standard kitchen ingredients, like onions and garlic. Maria Loboda's photographic print of a feather, small bones, and a crocodile purse along with Beth Collar's ghoulish, baby-esque appendages made of mahogany and brass are almost like ceremonial offerings highlighting a cultural moment of decrepit self-commercialization.
Making complete sense of the conglomerate of symbols and relics within Tarantallegra is ultimately a less-than-intuitive task. While normally a press release would help fill in certain blanks of comprehension, the one created for this exhibition is not your standard didactic piece of paper but instead a work in its own right. "A Counter-Magics of Desire & Revolt," by Francesca Martinez Tagliavia, is an eight page manual that aims to help “your body produce an excess of desire” and allow you “to break free of this excess, dispersing it joyfully all around.” The work reads like abstracted tome of present-day societal commentary created with antiquated language and runelike symbols.
While many exhibitions are often mysterious or less-than-straightforward for the sake of being so, the enigmas within Tarantallegra are thematically bolstering, rather than a self-important exercise of obfuscation.
Tarantallegra will be on view at HESTER until August 7th.