jenine marsh

   wastelanders, in How deep is your love?
   Cooper Cole, Toronto 2017

How deep is your love?
Cooper Cole, Toronto. September 16 – October 21, 2017

Aline Bouvy
Laurie Kang
Jennie Jieun Lee
Candice Lin
Jenine Marsh
Mindy Rose Schwartz
Chloe Seibert
Beth Stuart
Thea Yabut

wastelanders, 2017. Gypsum cement, steel, wire, weeds, coins.

Installation images on Art Viewer

~scroll down for the text~ or open the PDF

How deep is your love? is an exhibition organized by Jenine Marsh,
who also contributes the following text. Works by the nine participating
artists are presented as relief. But here, relief’s definition is pulled
back from the closed interiors of architectures and anatomies, to open up
a space for other forms of life, and forms of contact:


i follow the veiny route drawn across the back of my hand. no
road is straight and the ink is getting smudged. but it leads
me to the cathedral where i’m stopped at the outer walls. nearly
every inch is thickly adorned with figures carved in relief. stone
angels stand shoulder to shoulder with effigies of patrons and
saints. some of their bodies protrude from the stone only halfway,
others are compressed, nearly flat into the walls they are carved
from. whichever way they are flattened or intersected, they are
nevertheless understood as wholly rational, voluminous and complete
bodies. it is accepted that their unseen, unsculpted backsides,
turned shoulders and abbreviated depths continue beyond and behind
sight, into space not limited by sculptural or architectural
dimensions. but knowledge of what remains un-carved, of bodies fully
present behind the surface, is a miraculous glimpse of the interior.
inside the cathedral are more relief figures, draped in precious
metals and jewels. but even in here all i see is adornment upon
adornment, gilded surfaces that outline in gold a barred entrance to
a greater interior. the saints survey us from behind relief’s veil,
but all we can touch are the coarse images of our own production. I
may enter only as far as the imagined backsides of these unearthly
beings, and yet my trust in transcendence loses no depth.

how deep is the relief? is it raised or is it sunken? is it high
or is it shallow? as the ornamental surface of walls and pillars,
relief upholds the physical threshold between inside and outside,
just as it divides the low world of corporeal physicality from
higher metaphysical dimensions. while relief is the most perfect
manifestation of surface’s dividing and separating capacities,
any form of representation, even figures in the round, even living
bodies, can uphold surface as an incontrovertible division, and so
lay claim to an interior. why does michelangelo’s david have such
a tiny cock? because he is a man of the mind, a higher being, who is
not controlled by the body, the sexual, instinctual manimal. His
small package demonstrates a man physically divided from what he
abhors, a man in control of his own destiny. but why only shrink it
when you can cut it off? viennese architect adolf loos condemned and
rid his work of all exterior ornamentation. in his manifesto of 1908,
loos proclaims “the evolution of culture is synonymous with the
removal of ornament from objects of daily use.”1 ornamentation is
useless, uneconomical and distasteful to modern man, and it belongs
to those racialized and gendered others who are deemed primitive,
childish, degenerate, erotic and amoral. his architecture did away
with the texture and imagery of relief, but could not dispense with
the structural necessity for surfaces. and in their idealized, purist
divisions of space, these surfaces essentialize the still pervasive
western ideal shared by both moderns and ancients, of a metaphysical,
unassailable, masculine interiority. how deep is the relief now?

from ancient greece to loos, relief’s threshold could not be
crossed. but in 1917 a gate was built. when auguste rodin was
commissioned to construct the entrance to a yet un-built museum,
he set out to narrate the inferno of dante’s divine comedy
on a multi-paneled relief doorway. but after thirty-seven years
of tireless working and reworking, his gates of hell had
become an unbroken plane of nearly two-hundred figures, writhing,
stretching and crumpling over each other in grief, pain and
ecstasy, in no linear or narrative order. the bodies expand,
contract, bend and multiply in unreserved excess of any known
rational anatomy. and the surface itself is no dividing veil.
“for the first time,” writes rosalind krauss, “in the gates,
a relief ground acts to segment the figures it carries, to
present them as literally truncated, to disallow them the fiction of
a virtual space in which they can appear to expand.”2 the bodies
are sliced through, halved and then conjoined with the surface of
the doors themselves. as transformations of a pliable slab by tool
and hand, they are coexistent with the event of their process. of
this seething skin of many partial bodies, rodin is only one, and
i, another. however, these gates are impenetrable; at the
time of his death the doors had never been cast in bronze or set
on hinges, and the museum for which they were commissioned was
never built. physically or otherwise, this passage will never be
crossed. but because the gates’ dislocated surface does not
function as a divider or a threshold, it denies the assumption of
transcendence. there is no other dimension from which to emerge,
and we suffer no separation from these bodies. the ecstatic inferno
is here, only here, at the surface.


i imagine that i live in my body, and what i call my sense of
self is located somewhere in my head. the brain’s most recent
evolutionary addition, the cerebral cortex, is an undulating
surface of grey matter only 2-3mm thick, held up and out by a
thick mat of white matter. below are the more primitive
cerebellum and brain stem. the nodes and folds of the cerebral
cortex relate to different functions of the evolved human life
and body. what happens on the body’s outside surface –bump the
elbow, bite the tongue- is replicated and compressed onto this
bunched up interior surface, this wrinkled grey attic office.
sensations are delivered here to be configured, compared,
preserved, like flowers pressed in a book, arranged into flat
bouquets of language and image. and I call this cramped attic,
this dry garden of flat files, life, self, i. how strange it
suddenly seems, how bizarre, that the mind should house my sense
of self, when the brain can’t sense, having no nerve endings of
its own. no wonder the heart and the stomach and other vaguer
spaces of the interior have also held executive positions in the
many other human anatomies.

one view of life sees that its sole purpose, its defining
feature, is to reproduce genes. genes want to survive, and
so our bodies obligingly, stupidly carry them forward through
birth and reproduction, all the while naively believing that
life is, begins, and ends with consciousness. but underlying
all our ambitions and desires is the unconscious imperative to
survive genetically, beyond the body’s brief lifespan. the
gene’s compulsion determines life’s only viable activities:
eat, sleep and procreate. and to create or enter a societal
system in which these needs can be met: job, house, kids. a
recipe for survival. all the outward appearance of life is only
the gross manifestation of the gene’s drive to replicate. when
life means survival, it can seem either self-fulfilled or
impossible. those who will not succeed in these terms, those
who are without, and those who live on the edge, might be
expected to ask, i’m alive, aren’t i? but when i hear that my
motives, though thinly veiled by the flowery narration of my
consciousness, are essentially genetic, i protest, mind over
matter, my life is my own, i have agency and it is i who
survives, not my genes. but then to hear the claim of great
achievement reached only through conscious effort, i protest,
success often stacks unearned privilege upon privilege,
instrumentalized through that recurring gift of the neanderthal;
a brutal adherence to individualistic survival. i’ll have neither
one nor the other – neither evolution nor volition. how can life
be lived, between these two ulterior, inferior, interior motives?
while genes replicate and ambitions multiply in the interior’s
depths, on the outside other kinds of plurality grow wild.

here at the periphery of the interior is the near-outside.
the body’s near-outside is the skin. like snails, our skin
salivates a self-lubrication of salty and bitter secretions.
and like snails, who lay down a road of mucus underfoot on
which to glide, we make our way through the world with our
skin; “i am a creature of the mud, not the sky.”3 the prints
of fingertips, the soles of the feet, the rods and cones of
the retina, the drums of the ears, the membranes of the nose,
the buds of the tongue, and the folds of sex, together form a
porous interface between interior and exterior, a bristling
carpet of nerve endings and sensors. lights, sounds and scents
reach me from a distance, while textures, tastes, bumps and
scratches must come closer. what does it feel like to imagine
myself not as an internally contained volume, but instead as
an extroverted, edgeless surface? i as a surface held up and
made mobile by the flesh and bones of the interior. i as an
out-side, which is also not i, stretching to share the out-
sides of numerous other bodies, things and spaces. and could
this visceral confusion between what is and isn’t self be
embodied as a style of being? if “volume produces surface that
in turn enables the potentiality of human presence and
occupation”4, then has the interior’s sole function all along been
to create by exclusion an exterior surface? but i must go further
than this. this skin can be stretched. stretched and peeled.


imagine a body whose interior has become vestigial, all the
guts a giant appendix. imagine a body whose insides might be
exorcised, discarded like foul water from a vase. imagine a
body with no body at all, a body made up of surface. there is
a new urge to chop and to cut. a violent impulse to undo the
harm of containment. to turn this anatomy over, to gut, and to
empty out like a pocket. let it bleed, spill and empty,
staining and stained. to be flayed from what has become
vestigial. i am an out-side, and i live in the wastelands with
the outcasts and strays. but can I survive without an inside
place to put myself? where “the formula ‘know thyself’ has
become obsolete”, “who can endure constant open-endedness? who
can keep on living completely exposed?”5 will i fall apart? or
can a sense of self be reversed, to be instead a self of sense?

at the periphery of the interior are the outskirts, empty lots,
road-side wastelands and ruins of vanquished industry. it smells
like train oil and car oil and rust and grass shoots. it sounds
like crickets, gravel underfoot and distant traffic. in these
seedy conglomerates of abandoned and overtaken, unwanted things
chaotically pollute and populate. strayed things. dispossessed
things. furniture fallen off of trucks, wheat fallen out of
freight trains. things lost and thrown away. bad pets and bedbugs
are evicted here, away, to wander, forage, trespass and loiter.
things adapt quickly at the edge of civilization and civility,
where ferality is contagious. mongrels roam for scraps, they fight
and fuck, trading fleas. they sleep under heaps of choking vine
and thorn and barbed wire tendrils that let loose lazy flights of
seeds. from a soil of crumbled pavement and rotted fenceposts,
scentless flowers raise their faces to the pollinators, and red
ants sample their acidic nectar on bobbing heights. songless birds
make nests of shredded newspaper and phonebooks up in the power
lines. outside of anyplace, this space belongs to no one, and
everyone is squatting. exorcised from the air-conditioned city, i
feel the sun burn my skin, burrs catch thick at my shoelaces, and
i leave my prints in the dusty earth.

1. Loos, Adolf. “Ornament and Crime.”The Architecture of Adolf Loos: An Arts Council Exhibition.
London: Arts Council, 1985. 100–103
2. Krauss, Rosalind.Passages in Modern Sculpture. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1981. 23
3. Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. 3
4. Cheng, Anne Anlin.Second Skin – Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface.
New York: Oxford University Press, 2011. 30
5. Minh-ha, Trinh T. “The Body in Theory”.Woman, Native, Other. Writing Postcoloniality and feminism.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989. 264, 260