May 142024


Kris Lemsalu’s sculptures for One foot in the gravy at Margot Samel are well crafted explorations into life and death, using a lot of tongues. There’s a lot of humor in the work, and this levity is nice to see in the galleries- especially in our current times.

The press release is interesting too-

One should acknowledge, with infinite joy, the fact of being alive. We should celebrate our existence and recognize its fragility in every moment. It’s easy to forget, to get distracted by mundane circumstances of our day-to-day life. On the other hand, life’s impermanence may induce panic, an all-encompassing fear that leaves us searching for answers. Still, we are resilient to becoming just another customer at Café Gratitude, its slogan ringing in our ears like a mosquito — What Are You Grateful For? Baruch Spinoza introduced the concept of conatus, which illustrates the internal drive of every being to persevere in its existence. The conatus is inherent to every substance; it is the engine that propels life. However, older philosophies get boiled down to artificially made bite-sized snacks at Café Gratitude — Live Laugh Love — pushing us to habitually flee from quick, feel-good moments.

Celebrating life doesn’t seem to intimidate Estonian artist Kris Lemsalu. Her work emphasizes, with absolute honesty, life and its different stages. This direct form of communication is not new to the artist. In 2019, she presented the work Birth V – Hi and Bye at the Venice Biennale which was an unmediated exploration of cycles relating to birth, life, death, and (fortunately) rebirth. Lemsalu continues her celebratory, inquisitive, and pagan journey in her exhibition at Margot Samel. We are welcomed with a grand altar inscribed with “VITA”, each letter created with an anthropomorphic character that references Baubo, a figure from Greek mythology associated with vitality and renewal, famed for making Demeter laugh in her most tragic moment. This figure often recurs in Lemsalu’s work, appearing with a jaw (or vulva) as a head, wearing a pair of cargo pants with tongues leaning out from its utilitarian pockets.

Tongues multiply in various sizes and formats throughout the space. Sometimes they are raised like the bright flag of a grand country, other times they rest on a rocking chair, contemplating life. The tongue is a familiar symbol in Lemsalu’s work. The artist often correlates the body part to the Hindu deity Kali, a controversial figure, who in the ecstasy of an uncontrolled dance, extended her great tongue to drink the blood of demons, resulting in a triumph over negative forces. Kali’s tongue is a symbol that evokes both laughter and fear, simultaneously bestowing life and death, creation and destruction.

When we enter the world of Lemsalu’s work, our experience functions as a ritual. Each work acts as a rite that celebrates our conatus and the perseverance of our existence, shamelessly celebrating our fragility and the passage of time, commemorating life with flowers, with one foot deep into the gravy.

Enrique Giner de Los Ríos

Apr 212023

“Star study, portrait of my mother”, 2023

“Night reading (garden path, a pear halved, portrait of my mother, two birds)”, 2023

“Page unfolded (stoneware vase with peony scroll)”,2023

“Night studio (kingfisher, bone comb, moon through clouds, ink lily)”, 2023

“Night reading (moonscapes, garden window)”, 2023

Margot Samel is currently showing Perimeter, a series of dreamy, personal paintings by Olivia Jia.

From the press release-

Painted in what the artist has described as a ‘nocturnal’ palette, these works have a somnambulant quality, appearing as if scenes encountered in a state between sleep and waking. Each is constructed around a tableau that the artist has arranged, often incorporating material collected by herself, or in the possession of family members. Ideas of kinship and heritage – in this instance informing Jia’s own diasporic identity, as the child of Chinese immigrants to the United States – are negotiated through the constellations of elements she gathers together in her compositions. Staged in a studio workspace, depicted either late at night, or in an imagined facsimile of that location, these paintings act as tools with which a greater degree of self-recognition might be arrived at.

It could be said that our sense of belonging is partly understood in relation to our belongings, and the belongings of those closest to us. This is a principle that Jia employs to reconcile personal narratives with broader cultural dynamics. Artifacts resembling family heirlooms, lost during periods of political upheaval, are sought out in the annals of art history. Genres, be that of the Still-life, Huaniaohua, the Chinese tradition of ‘Bird and Flower’ painting, or American Naturalist illustration become prospective frameworks to be infused with anecdote or biographical allusions, and mined for accidentally shared motifs. What is being honed in these paintings is an iconographic system, one that reflects on the points at which individual experience intersects with collective accounts.

Images, carefully folded for storage, and books left open at resonant pages, frequently act as framing devices within Jia’s compositions. These devices draw our attention to the mechanics of printed reproduction, and its capacity as an authoritative repository for knowledge. What they also highlight, however, is how affect can be produced through combinations of such factual information. The sombrely lit surfaces upon which these objects and images are depicted are at once tabletops or pinboards upon which objects might be placed, and psychic spaces onto which desire might be projected. Here, the act of painting itself is presented as analogous to the nature of Jia’s arrangements of collected material: as it too constitutes an archival structure in which the objective properties of documents and the subjective nature of memory are able to coalesce.

This exhibition closes 4/22/23.