If you were to enjoy a piece of steak cooked medium rare, the tenderness of the meat can be measured by feeling of touching the base of your thumb when you put the tips of your thumb and index finger together. That is the perfect tenderness. Now, remember this subtle touch on the fingertip, and internalize it as a memory for "softness", one that will resonate with the works of Ivy Haldeman.
More precisely, Haldeman's works are not soft, but closer to the gratification of biting on a piece of steak cooked medium rare. Unlike the actual muscular memory from the touched fingertip, she's chosen to depict a particular moment, while leaving the before and after to the imagination of the observer. On her images, the background reminds one of a blinding flash when the naked eyes stare at an incandescent light. It is as if one comes into a trance, a temporal crevasse where the real world becomes vacuous, and the story pauses on a blank frame, that is quickly fleeting. Haldeman's "(Hesitate)" opened at Capsule Shanghai last month marked the artist's first solo exhibition in China, that offered a rare opportunity to look at the works of this rising New York star under one roof.
Pink fluorescent light probes through the velvet curtain from the exhibition space on the left. Inside, the two light installations hang slightly off facing each other in the space, the LED lights bend fluidly like ink painting brushstrokes. The one closer to the window, Half Suit, Back Forward, Sleeve Behind Waist, Elbow Out, as the title describes, portrays the slenderness of the figure's silhouette through the pleats on her attire. The other half is a frontal figure, whose pencil skirt sways, cuffs in swing, and her sassy hips provide the contour to her demeanor. These two empty suits seemed ambiguous in gender and identity under the subtle sound of the electric current, which make them equally mesmerizing and intriguing.
Two Suits, Wrist Bent, Cuff to Pocket (Mauve, Peach) is one of the works on canvas from the Suits series. Shifting from the pink series to Haldeman's iconic fleshy color series, our thoughts are also put in place. If her installations stimulate people's imagination from internally, then her works on canvas adopt the external features of the fleshy body to stimulate introduce a personification that thereon electrifies a mental image.
Both the figurative suits and Haldeman's most iconic hotdog figures are provocative. The salmon color body coils slightly, with eyes shut, without forgetting to consciously exert melodious postures. The figures seems more reticent than Renée Zwelleger dancing "Roxie", but does not outshine the dazzling as Dita Von Teese, yet it reminds one of the urban white collars who kick off their stilettos after work, in Shanghai or New York, or perhaps it serves as an abstract projection of the certain urban state of mind.
Haldeman's personified hotdog figure plays with the notions of the classic feminine, making a serious joke on the dichotomy of genders. Drawing inspiration from the hotdog ad, she began to adopt the metaphor of the hotdog and bun in 2016, which she derived into a transgender persona for the canvas. Some holds a banana phone chatting with friends at the other end, others lightly flip through a blank book, some immersed in deep thoughts, while others in repose. The phallic and the feminine demeanor are mutually dissolving through their struggle, the tease strips off the tags we commonly attribute to personal identities and gender. With a sense of satire, these figures seem to proclaim, "We are just the hotdogs on a shelf, free for grab."
There are many portrayals of the feminine figure in repose, for example, Corot's young girl sleeping on books, and Degas' Le Tub. Haldeman has mentioned in previous interviews about the influence of Kitagawa Utamaro's prints of courtesans. Her lines are finessed and fluid, vary from thick to thin, while the immediate colors next to the lines emphasize a sense of existence. In addition to her execution on the shaded surfaces, the figures in her paintings are as slender as the courtesans of the "floating world", while one may also grasp a glimpse of the illustrious pinup girls found in America from the 1950s.
The gaze in Haldeman's works is mutual, the fingertips and toes of the hotdog figure point precisely at the edge of the painting, that sets a limit to itself within the frame of a rectangular field. Standing before any of these works, the viewer gets the sense of facing a mirror, tempted to reach out one's hand. Perhaps the way one would emulate this figure has already surfaced on one's mind. The boundaries between reality and imagination, the self and the other are unclear, and at this moment, the hotdog figure on the painting flirts with us. Haldeman uses the fingertip to pick up the clues hidden in our everyday life, for example, moving a banana peel with a pointy stiletto, using fingers to gesture the legs… reminding us of inadvertently touching someone else's elbow can be an experience just as wonderful and exciting.