Alumna Julia Phillips in Solo Show at Matthew Marks Gallery

Entering into the world of Visual Arts alumna Julia Phillips ’15 is like entering into a dream: nothing is certain, everything doubles, even triples, as something else.

Mădălina Telea Borteș
October 27, 2022

Entering into the world of Visual Arts alumna Julia Phillips ’15 is like entering into a dream: nothing is certain, everything doubles (even triples) as something else. With depth of insight and expert care, Phillips reconfigures motherhood and the female body. On view at Matthew Marks Gallery until October 29, in Me, Ourself & You, one will find an array of sculptures formed from clay, stainless steel, and medical PVC tubes. One will also find seven oil pastel drawings on Dura-Lar and one of Phillips’ famous ceramic body casts. Together, these works amount to a visual essay steeped in psychosocial symbolism and primordial impulse.

The sculptures and drawings in Me, Ourself & You suggest but do not tell. Nothing is easy to grasp in full because nothing looks the same twice: not the figure’s face in Nourisher (2022), a clay cast of a woman’s face and chest from which medical tubes hang and pool on the floor, nor the pastel marks on the Dura-Lar film sheets in the Conception Drawing II-VIII (2022) series. And while one may work to decipher the sculptures’ and drawings’ meanings, one finds it a rather impossible task. 

The pieces in this show are deeply affecting, not because of their overt sentimentality, but because of their poignantly elegant simplicity. By stripping the phenomenon of motherhood clean of pathos, Phillips is able to convey the structural, social, and interior facets of lived experience. In effect, Phillips offers a different way of thinking about the conceiving, birthing, and aborting body.  

In a recent Frieze interview, she explains: “My work is rooted in the idea that the body is the first ground of our experiences. It is precisely this thought that brings me to the bodily and mechanical metaphors that I use in my work. This idea derives from the artist and thinker Lorraine O’Grady, who explored it in the photomontage series ‘BodyGround’ [1991].”

In a similar vein as O’Grady, Phillips employs critical and psychoanalytic theory to express the felt sense of lived experience and to expand the work beyond the bounds of personal mythology. Within that expanded terrain, one comes into contact with an oft eclipsed truth about the female body, namely that it exists as “a relation, a role, a person, a function all at once,” as Phillips recently noted in an interview with ArtForum

Me Ourself and You can be viewed at Matthew Marks Gallery’s 526 West 22nd Street location. The Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 6.