A Susceptible Puppet Master – An Exhibition Essay on Chris Curreri’s The Ventriloquist (2019)

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

Just over a year ago I was given some advice to start writing more about art. One aspect of being in the curatorial world is being able to write critically and effectively about art and about the exhibitions you plan to host or the ones you end up visiting. I had little to no experience writing about art exhibitions aside from the few projects in my undergrad, but I went out to find an exhibit to write about anyways for practice.

I stumbled upon Chris Curreri's exhibition at the Daniel Faria Gallery on my day of research and it became the first show I wrote about. Consequently, it was also the last show I wrote about (since then) as I got swept up in other matters. I sent this piece out to a few places for publication but with the eventual distractions that came up I essentially forgot about this aspect of my career.

Now a year later, I've come across it and I realized how relatable this piece is to our upcoming exhibit: Queer Identities. Though this exhibition has no influence on the exhibit, there were parallels in the writing that struck with me and I thought that at this point, why not publish the piece here. I hope that by re-visiting this part of my writing that I will return to it as it was truthfully a great experience.

This piece doesn't necessarily walk you through the exhibit or critique it, but it explores my personal interpretation of Curreri's work. Naturally so, I would invite you to view his work before reading my piece. I am a firm believer in viewers creating their own narratives of an exhibit before reading up on the artist intent or reviewers personal experience. You can find the exhibition photos here.

A Susceptible Puppet Master

An Exhibition Essay on Chris Curreri’s The Ventriloquist (2019)

Installation view of Chris Curreri at Daniel Faria Gallery, 2019

As a reoccurring exhibited artist, The Ventriloquist (2019) marked Chris Curreri’s sixth exhibition with the Daniel Faria Gallery since his debut there in 2011. With this exhibit, Curreri showcased a series of photographs composed of various membranes that could be described as disturbingly tasteful. These photographs boldly contrasted the greyscale, humanoid sculptures placed throughout the show, all of which were self-portraits of the artist. The Ventriloquist feeds off of Curreri’s previously explored motifs of bodily orifices, while surveying new studies of one’s personal vulnerabilities, or perhaps more specifically, ones that may derive from an eroticized lens in a heteronormative centered world.

Insomniac, 2019

Chromogenic print

39.5 x 58.5 inches (framed)

As Is, 2019

Leather, metal, silicone, resin

Dimensions variable

Upon immediate entry, there was a stark collision between the use of colour in Curreri’s photography series, Insomniac (2019), and the bold red carpet that houses the grey, severed limbs of the artist. Contrastingly, As Is (2019) consisted of more than just the limbs, as each piece was peculiarly chained to an empty buckled harness. These elements seemingly teased one another. While the harness was notably lacking the physical presence of a body, it was surrounded by photographs of guts and organs, which in part were not held together by skin. With the absence of a membrane, the harness loses its purpose. Both pieces yearned to fit within one another but were missing key elements. This idea was furthered through the missing appendages in Insomniac and the physical presence of severed hands and feet in As Is. Interestingly, both of these scenes had one thing in common—they were missing the head. The red carpet beneath As Is reappeared in the back half of the gallery, exhibiting the additional greyscale sculptural works which was consistent through all human forms. When speaking to Curreri about his work, he described the use of the greyscale implied the lack of life in these forms (2019), suggesting that all of the blood had drained from these sculptures to create red carpets of ‘pooled blood.’ Everything in these spaces appeared to be in suspended animation, proposing that they were waiting to come to life at the hands of a ventriloquist.

Christopher, 2019

Silicone, resin, hair, fabric

80 x 20 x 9 inches

Christopher (2019) is a vital piece of the show, located in this back room. This piece consisted of a life sized ‘dummy’ of the artist and drew upon Curreri’s previous exhibits: Puppet (2008), Beside Myself (2011), and prior to this exhibit, Unruly Matter (2017). Curreri’s method of using male models started with his Puppet series and endured throughout his practice. In Beside Myself, he again used a male figure as a prop and deeply explored the concept of orifices. The Beside Myself model had his head covered in a thin layer of dough, obstructing his mouth, eyes, ears, and nose. This closure of orifices was interesting, as now with Christopher, Curreri stated “the boundaries of our bodies are defined by holes – the orifices that are our means of exchange with the world’ (Curreri, 2019). This statement highlighted the importance of holes on the human body, yet as aforementioned, the previous room had no head present. He had eliminated the orifices and masked the head once again.

Beside Myself, 2011

chromogenic print

40" x 42"

While analyzing Christopher, there was an artistic element to the hand puppet that did not align with the standard ventriloquial figure. Curreri stated that “[Christopher] hangs in anticipation of the hand that will enter it,” and interestingly enough, rather than the hole being found on the back, Curreri placed it in a spot where one would find the stimulation

point for a male – his anus (Curreri, 2019). With this orifice being the point of contact that should bring the doll to life, Curreri returned to a subject shown in Unruly Matter. In that series, he explored the erotic display of two men kissing, which visually simulated the Georgia O’Keefe effect where the lips of the men emulated the female vulva. With the hint of prostate stimulation present in this exhibit, one may begin to seek other forms of sexual fantasies or kinks present in the space. Is the harness another doll, waiting to come to life? Does it represent a pleasure in BDSM that is derivative from Christopher? Curreri seemingly is making a subtle, yet elicit, display of male eroticism.

Kiss Portfolio, 2016

Gelatin silver fibre-based prints 4" x 5" image

16 x 14 1/2" (framed)

Looking past the subliminal eroticism, some attention is then drawn to the exhibition didactic. As Curreri wrote about his work, he stated that this show was “premised on the idea that we constantly contend with things outside of ourselves[.]’ In the furthest part of the show, Curreri created one last self-portrait, The Ventriloquist (2019) himself. This male figure was draped in a moving blanket with only his feet exposed, sulking in the back room alone. It could be argued that The Ventriloquist is the one meant to bring Christopher to life, and with this reoccurring theme of self-portraits, perhaps could infer that these two figures represent Curreri bringing himself to life. Curreri said this show was about contending, and the use of the word contend could mean to struggle with something (2019). With The Ventriloquist hiding in the back room it is as if Curreri is illustrating the difficulty that some of us may have with bringing ourselves to life. Even in his previous work Puppet, Curreri “draws attention to the nature of aesthetic experience, suggesting that active effort is required in altering conventional modes of perception’ (Curreri, 2008) When I spoke to Curreri about this idea, he focused more on the importance of facing our vulnerabilities and existing with them so that we can be present (2019). If we do not work with our vulnerabilities, we close ourselves off.

The Ventriloquist, 2019

Silicone, resin, fabric

58" x 24" x 36"

While speaking about his work, Curreri never touched upon the subtle highlight of male eroticism, but while reviewing the exhibition as a whole there did seem to be a connection between the use of a social anxiety and male sexuality. The spilling organs could be seen as a representation of overwhelming pressure. Looking at idioms like: ‘my head is about to explode,’ or ‘my stomach dropped,’ the imagery shown in Insomniac embodied such idioms and addressed the lack of head. With Curreri’s history of using male models it could be believed that the show only exhibits a male presence. Therefore, with the use of these lifeless membranes as Curreri described them, this exhibit could be expressing the difficulty in facing social anxiety; one that stems from or represents the vulnerability some men feel when embracing sexual desires that differ from the traditional heteronormative ideology.

Insomniac, 2019

Chromogenic Print

35.5" x 23.3" (image size), 37.25" x 25.25" (frame)

At first glance, the grotesque beauty of Insomniac was what drew me into Curreri’s show, but upon further inspection, it was the underlying themes of one’s personal vulnerabilities that kept me invested.

This exhibit was shown April 18th 2019 – June 22nd 2019 at the Daniel Faria Gallery.

All Photographs are from

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