Building Blocks: Rosa Aiello and Patricia L. Boyd

The artists’ two-person show at London’s Cell Project Space lays bare the latent economic structures that condition our lives

Modules can be described as individual components used to construct a more complex structure such as an item of furniture, a building or, perhaps, even an art exhibition. This modular premise of extraction and addition underlines Rosa Aiello’s and Patricia L. Boyd’s collaborative exhibition ‘Joins’ at Cell Project Space, where as described in the exhibition handout, sculpture, video, sound, circuitry and photographs are recombined and arranged to antithetically ‘bring things together in an attempt to pull them apart’.

Two L-shaped temporary walls occupy opposite ends of the gallery, creating distinct corners to recall the modularity of domestic space, further emphasized in Rosa Aiello’s motion-triggered sound piece Untitled (Blasey Ford) (2019), which lists the areas of a house (‘the stairwell, the living room, the bedroom, the bathroom in close proximity…’) named in Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimonial against Brett Kavanaugh. This source material suggests the unsettling consequences configured space can have over lived experience. A caption for an adjacent artwork resonates here, explaining, ‘The way the rooms of the house are arranged determines the flow of events,’ specifically underpinning Progression (Harvest Hills – Coventry Hills) (2019) a photographic series extending across a gallery wall. Blurred images of detached houses photographed at high speed depict a journey between two neighbouring suburbs in Alberta, Canada, both built in the 1990s. Innumerable rows of homogenous houses dominate the landscape while captions allude to the conditioning influence of design over human behaviour.

Rosa Aiello, Progression (Harvest Hills – Coventry Hills), 2019, digital print, photo rag paper, acetate film, glue, upholstery fabric, aluminium frames, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist and Cell Project Space, London; photograph: Rob Harris

In an adjacent display, translucent yellow- and brown-flecked sculptures are recessed into a gallery wall. These seemingly beeswax moulds are, in fact, negative impressions of office furniture, specifically the inside armrest of a ubiquitous Herman Miller Aeron office chair, cast by Boyd from waste cooking grease sourced from a facility that collects it from restaurants before it is cleaned, resold and transformed into fuel. Boyd further intervenes into the flow of goods by purchasing her cast object, ‘America’s best-selling chair’, from a liquidation auction of a Bay Area technology company undergoing intensive financial restructuring. The resulting grease sculptures are abject compounds of ‘exhausted’ commodities extracted from their circulation routes and repurposed to expose the dispensability of material culture and sublimation of leisure and labour. The congealed materiality of Boyd’s Aeron Armrest I – XII recalls poet Keston Sutherland’s speculation on the idea of Gallerte in Marx’s Capital (1867). In ‘Marx in Jargon’ (2008), Sutherland reflects on the historical misunderstanding of ‘abstract human labour’ as a ‘mere congelation of human labour’. He instead insists on Marx’s specific use of Gallerte as an essentially untranslatable (and disgusting) idea to describe ‘abstract human labour’ in terms of a commodity bought and eaten by his 19th Century readers: gelatine. As such, Boyd’s gelatinous sculptures offer a gruesome image of human labour: congealed into a mess of grease and animal waste, devoured by capitalism.

Patricia L. Boyd, Aeron Armrest I-XII, 2019, used restaurant grease, wax, damar resin, each 31 × 14 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Cell Project Space, London; photograph: Rob Harris

Two-person exhibitions often struggle to negotiate the conscious pairing of distinct practices, yet here both artists work intuitively to present mutual lines of enquiry in tandem. A list of Terms (2019) distributed from a cardboard box stowed at the back of the gallery allows shared ideas to coalesce. This collaborative, alphabetized index generously signposts a range of critical motifs underpinning the exhibition, defining obvious references such as Corner, Grease and Grid to opaque reflections, as in Stuffing and Dentistry. As a glossary, Terms is a linchpin and playfully invites viewers to make associative readings between the artworks in the exhibition. In this sense, ‘Joins’ breaks down concepts, allowing latent economic structures conditioning housing, labour relations and commodity exchange to be laid bare.

Rosa Aiello and Patricia L. Boyd, 'Joins' was on view at Cell Project Space, London, from 1 Feburary until 17 March 2019.

Main image: Rosa Aiello and Patricia L. Boyd, Terms, 2019, A4 laser prints, installation view. Courtesy: the artist and Cell Project Space, London; photograph: Rob Harris

Amy Budd is a curator and writer based in London, UK. 

Issue 202

First published in Issue 202

April 2019

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