Through the past few months of gallery visits, we’ve seen incredible, boundary-pushing art. But for the most part, the content has been pretty modest and “proper”. So when the Merlino gallery’s door cautioned viewers about explicit content within, it was surprisingly intriguing.
Inside, the walls were swarming with colorful small drawings delicately pinned with thumb tacks while a large, floor to ceiling sculpture dominated the middle of the room. These things may seem typical of a gallery, but the content was, as the door explained, “explicit”. The work contained layers and layers of what the artists described as an exploration of the human body, sex, and sexuality.
When talking to them, they mentioned many people shying away from their show because of the sign outside. We all thought this was strange, since practically every moment of our lives we are bombarded with images from advertisers practically selling us sex. In the elevated setting of an art gallery, however, people somehow were too afraid to see the body parts they themselves even had on display. Perhaps this is why Chhin and Ruiz became so interested in the subject; sex and sexuality (and especially the human form) are things we all experience, but as a society we tend to censor these topics and pretend they do not exist. Ruiz likened this idea to the stories children are told about sex. Adults explain it as a purely physical act, merely an insertion of one thing into another, a concept most likely confusing and altogether foreign to younger kids. But as most find as they age, sex has more meaning in the mental sense than merely the physical. But despite this new experience and some gained understanding, the pre-taught confusion toward the act remains, continuing the cycle of discomfort and uncertainty surrounding sex within our society. Chhin and Ruiz mentioned wanting to do future shows building upon the topic, but with more focus on relationships and gender roles.
Close up of the giant sculpture’s many parts, as well as one of my favorite illustrations – reminded me of Rocky Horror Picture Show, how could I not love it?
I then talked with Chhin about her beginnings in art. She said in high school she had loved and experimented with art, finding her favorite type was three dimensional. This path lead her to pursing ceramics in college, and though she initially had trouble with conventional methods – she said she was bad at wheel throwing, though she’s gotten better since starting – she seems to have found the perfect medium to express herself. Of course, I asked how the huge sculpture’s pieces were made, and she said they were direct castings from real people. The process she described reminded me of the hand sculpture booths at fairs; the material she uses creates a negative of the object placed inside which can then be filled with plaster. She explained it rather humorously, saying for the men she’d put the material in a cup and then let them do their business, though she was more involved with helping the women volunteers. Chinn seemed proud of her work – she even had a small piece in the gallery across the hall – and seemed eager to keep trying new projects. She mentioned her mom came to the show, and despite some expected discomfort, she told her daughter good job.
More of Chhin’s work was behind her large sculpture and even in other galleries. She also made a ceramic casting of a lightbulb, which I thought was incredibly impressive
Ruiz said she had always loved art, and remembered when she was around 15 finding a Peter Pan book and falling in love with the illustrations. From that point on, she said, she knew she wanted to be an illustrative artist. And with her delicate, detailed work in the gallery, it was clear she’d turned her dream to reality.
Much of Ruiz’s work utilized small colorful lines to create intensely detailed illustrations. Many of the pieces were surprisingly funny, even if very simple, the sex calendar and eyes were a few other of my favorites