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An embrace is an act of compassion, but it can also induce feelings of vulnerability, and a slew of related emotions. The group exhibition and performance program Into my Arms at ACE Open contemplates ‘the embrace’ in performance, installation and a series of new commissions.

ACE Open curator Toby Chapman invited artist and independent curator Frances Barrett to co-curate the exhibition, saying of this collaboration that “Barrett would challenge me and my ideas and bring something special to the project.”

Chapman speaks of unexpected connotations that arose when ‘the embrace’ was posed to artists as the theme of the exhibition. “It’s been interesting, when I spoke about the idea of ‘embrace’ they immediately thought of a ‘brace.’ I guess in that sense the embrace is a two-fold gesture,” he explains, “it’s an acceptance, but it’s also perhaps the possibility of having to prepare oneself for some kind of harshness or tension that comes with proximity. And I think what stems from this is a number of the artists are exploring vulnerability in their work.”

Amira.h., ‘Life Online with @amiraball’ (still) (2018), durational performance documentation, dimensions variable. Courtesy the artist.

The performances of some of these works occur in unexpected places, and thrive off these unorthodox (in the traditional gallery sense) relationships. For example, a 12-month durational performance by Amira.h. played out on the internet. For a year she delivered 150 performances on the live streaming site Periscope which traversed a variety of topics: from fat shaming and religion to sexuality. Here, she connected to an anonymous audience which at times interacted with her through commenting on her videos. Other works in the exhibition include literal envelopments close to the body. New Zealand-based queer artist Sione Monu uses a blanket in playful performative photographic self-portraits, and in Matt Huppatz’s series of large-scale drawings, architectural in nature, the folds of buildings are spaces of transgression.

Artists creating pockets of intimacy within their works can be read as a tactic to counter aggression and insecurity in current times.

“This particular exhibition is seeing care and intimacy, represented as the embrace, as a political strategy,” says Barrett. These approaches mark a shift away from performance art that at times has violent undertones. “If we think of Marina Abramović or Mike Parr, the works are very physically difficult,” continues Barrett. “They’re about endurance and creating a spectacular body in some ways, or dissolving the body in these heightened states. While I think the works selected for this exhibition are about not just our bodies, but our relationship to others, to the environment, to our family, to looking at our cultural lineage. I think the performances that we’re depicting are much more about drawing things close and caring for things and respecting things and there’s a softer handling of the body and the subjects than other strategies of performance.”

Into My Arms includes an extensive performance program on 12 May. The program can be found here.

Into My Arms
ACE Open
11 May – 7 July

Zara Sigglekow