Julia Thompson

Julia Thompson

exhibition dates:
15 Sep
1 Oct

A Julia Thompson sculpture is the thing itself. Its primary referent is the site of its own  decaying, transforming physicality. Her works are not just analogues for the human - specifically female, wounded - body, but are subject to the same effects imposed by the  environment they inhabit, enacting in their own way the mechanisms of the living organism. They are not a discussion of, not a reference to, but the very thing. 

Composed largely of edible materials, sweets, syrups, fizzy drinks, they undergo the  processes of degradation and disintegration experienced both by the mortal body, and by the  food that is needed for its survival. Owing to the porosity of their own frail borders, they are  absorbent to what is around them, and in this way, the slippage, the oozing, the falling apart,  simulates both the digestion of such food by the body, and its alternative: decomposition by  the elements of heat, light, bacteria, and the insistence of time that occurs when it is rejected  by the subject of disordered eating. 

The consensus is that food, before its consumption, can be beautiful. The existence of food  dyes would suggest it. The old masters were certainly keen on it. Yet it is rendered offensive  upon its entrance to a body, its status altered both immediately and irrevocably. It is a post state that, like death, is irreversible. Doubly true when it has been purged or excreted, matter  that has made these two journeys of ingestion and expulsion is elevated to the stuff of  obscenity. The culmination of our anxieties surrounding embodiment, here is the material  evidence of our human wretchedness, the shadow self, made solid, as if contained within the  gesture of defecation is some essential truth about the shameful nature of our existence; the  secret we cannot keep and are fated to reveal again and again as the body wills it. 

The feminine love object, having been abandoned, Roland Barthes suggests, must remain  motionless at the location of her heartbreak, for therein lies her femininity: “Woman is  sedentary, Man hunts, journeys; Woman is faithful (she waits). It is Woman who gives shape  to absence […] for she has time to do so […] expressing immobility […] the man who waits  and suffers from his waiting is miraculously feminised.” Hence, much like the food so  admired before it is displaced, swallowed and digested, so too the symbol of Woman is the  focus of admiration only in the state of inertia that female palatability consists in. Movement  is not feminine, and even in pain, inaction is expected of her. 

“He that has eyes to see and ears to hear may convince himself that no mortal can keep a  secret. If his lips are silent, he chatters with his fingertips; betrayal oozes out of him at every  pore,” says Freud. The oozing of Julia’s sculptures then - specifically her teeth, which  wrenched from the comfort of the shared space of the mouth, stacked atop each other,  abstracted and thus devoiced - has consequences for their status as containers. While they  absorb particles from their environment, so too their particles permeate the space around  them. Try as they might, their attempts at containment ultimately fail; and their smell is an  embodied, experiential reminder of this mechanism to the visitor, of the penetration of their  own animal boundary. 

Julia’s teeth may not be able to arrange themselves in rows so as to scream, but they find  other modes of communication, oozing with the secret that insists on its own revelation. By  use of the materials, the artist has given them this liberty. While bottles that hold perfume  traditionally act as barrier, revealing the essence of their contents only upon the breaking of a  seal, Julia’s function to announce both their visible presence and their smell concomitantly.  Their depths and their surface are a continuum, their scent just as much outside as any inside that can be meaningfully referred to. Thus the memories recalled to the artist by various 

smells are made plain, stripped of their protective coverings, reeking of the associations  attendant on female sexuality - expectations of cleanliness, hairlessness, sugary, floral,  cosmetic domestication. 

Artemisia so loved Mausolus that after his death she regularly imbibed his ashes, rendering  herself living tomb by the repetitive gesture of swallowing her grief. These sculptures, then,  enact a kind of reversal: a dispersal in all directions of the despair experienced by the subject  of oppressive male expectation, of the female body that grieves its freedom. These objects,  detached torsos, breasts and stomachs, teeth, perfume bottles - not undomesticated but de domesticated, defamiliarised - are made useless. These teeth do not enable speaking or eating,  these breasts fail to transform into tits for another’s arousal, these bottles, emblematic  accoutrement of female social and sexual existence, are unable to perfume the body. When  severed from their usual context, they are stripped of their utilitarian function. The  consequence of this loss of utility is that they remain present only as lacunae in the  environment that bore them, pointing ultimately to the ideologies and the set of conditions  that gave rise to them, relegated to symbols that reveal the motivation behind their  production. This is reflected in the bizarre status that mould and sculpture possess in relation  to each other - the standard classification of signifier and signified here nonsensical - one  borne from the other, immediately to render it useless. 

We are dealing ultimately with questions of inside and outside, of here and there, deixis of location that have implication for identity, that differentiate between beauty and obscenity. But Julia’s sculptures are neither an in nor an out - instead, inscribed on their surface is a sustained tension between these two states of being, a troubling of their mutual exclusion. While the food has not been eaten, neither is it static like Barthes’ abandoned woman. It has been shaped by hands, absorbed particles of skin, hair and dust. Yet, this food, normally made obscene by its interactions with a body, retains a disconcerting visual appeal. Saccharine pinks and purples, soft edges so suggestive of seductive, yielding femininity, endure despite the decaying of the object. What Julia has achieved here is a removal of the bar of the antithesis that keeps beauty and obscenity apart, endlessly evoking this binary in order to destroy it.

written by Moffy Gathorne-Hardy

curated by Angelica Jopling

Julia Thompson (b.1996) studied at Parsons School of Design (BFA), New York, (2014 - 2018). Recent exhibitions include “No Archive Will Restore You” (2022), Los Angeles, “Leftovers”, (2021), Lyles & King, “MOONFLOWER” (2022), Europa, NY.

Julia Thompson’s practice moves in and between sculpture, video, installation and drawing — all stemming from an ever growing collection of saved images and letters of those no longer in reach yet persistent in presence. Thompson works from the process of mould making, which is to say, she fills a cavity with clear, shimmering and soft materials - distant from the shape once filled. Casting puffy sculptures that simultaneously preserve and let go of their contents, ultimately spoiling the trapped images and letters making up their core.