Berenice Olmedo has always had a fascination with the marginalized body, human or otherwise. Whether she was producing sculptures based off of medical apparatuses for the disabled, or questioning the value of a stray dog’s life by making pelts and soap from found canine corpses.
“When talking to people about her work, this question often comes up, ‘Oh, I see she’s interested in disability, she must be herself or have a family member who’s disabled, right?,’” the Kunsthalle’s director Elena Filipovic, who organized the show, told ARTnews. “I was always a bit caught off guard by that question, and realize that people expect artists to speak of marginalization because they experience it personally, but for her it really is a metaphor.”
This it, until recently. Initially, plans for the exhibition were delayed by the pandemic, and then it was delayed again when Olmedo was in a serious car accident. During her recovery process, she would be bed bound for a month and a half, and then began electrical stimulation therapy alongside other patients over the course of a year.
“She realized she wanted to mechanize her works to mimic some of the some of the recuperation techniques she was being taught,” Filipovic said. “I was shocked at how excited she was, how much stamina she had to continue the project.”
Seeing Olmedo’s passion even in the face of such a trauma, Filipovic decided to delay the show again, one last time.
“I wanted her to have the Art Basel show,” said Filipovic. “I just felt so sure that she was onto something that was going to be really, really interesting.”
For “Hic et Nunc,” Olmedo collaborated with a rehabilitation center that makes prostheses. In the center’s archives were various casts of leg stumps from which Olmedo made a positive cast. The parts of the cast that are usually thrown away, Olmedo kept, resulting in heavily abstracted pieces. Made in clear plastic and hung from the ceiling on wire, almost as if floating, they have a definite, bodily presence that is further amplified by their movement.
Olmedo worked with a Japanese scientists to develop a small robotic element for her work that was based off the electro stimulation therapy she received. Olmedo and the scientists created a machine that would stimulate movement of the limb-sculpture at different points. It is this idiosyncratic movement that makes these objects feel present, alive. Appropriately, each sculpture is titled Hic et Nunc, or here and now.
But each sculpture also has a second, very human name, like Carlos, Marta, or Yolanda, reminding the audience that these objects were born from individuals.
“The names are the one moment that I think the public really is forced to see that these are based on bodies, because otherwise they’re kind of an abstraction,” said Filipovic.
In the second series of work in the show, Olmedo pushes her use of medical casts further, merging different casts into a new amalgamated compositions. These five works are titled alêtheia, referring to the Greek philosophical term for truth or disclosure.
Each work in the alêtheia series is somewhat disturbing in shape, recalling organs or fetuses—something that is emerging but also ancient. These bodies assert Olmedo’s insistence that we not only expand our definition of which bodies are considered normal and thereby, but that we do away with those definitions entirely.
As Olemdo write in a statement for the show, “There is no stigma of disability in the world I propose, but only variations of existence, variations of movement, variations of slowness and speed.”