Safia El Dabi's Soft Sculpture
29th – 31st May 2015
Accidental Missoni (wave emoji) / #hardnsoft (snake emoji)
These are not pineapples. They’re pretending to be pineapples. “They’re a new species. They’re trying to be something.” Rid of their trademark spiny edges, these pretending-to-be-pineapples have been enhanced with other defence mechanisms. Paint-hardened exoskeletons protect vulnerable insides that bulge and swell. Furthermore, El Dabi has daubed them with disguises; rendering their exteriors in an array of camouflages that reference gaudy Eighties interiors, the inhabitants of steamy ecosystems and paintings by the schoolchildren with whom she has worked.
The resulting works are playfully anthropomorphic. They’re both sexless and extremely sexual. They flop, tilt, slump and take on human characteristics. One sits self-consciously, gorged, fit to burst at its stitched seams. They even speak, El Dabi admits.
Clinical...just wipe it clean
Absorbed in a ritualistic rhythm, El Dabi’s hands operate automatically, stitching skin, stuffing limbs, kneading flesh and smearing fluids. She applies her moods as make-up onto fabric flesh. One work cries gloopy tears of paint from its crown, concealing its carcass. Another reveals pearly polystyrene innards beneath see-through skin.
Heavily dependant on the seclusion and sanctity of her studio, El Dabi’s is a physically performative, yet fiercely private process of obsessive making. She works freely, before engaging her head and heart in brief moments of critical distance. During these periods, El Dabi surfaces for air and publicly shares the fruits of her labour in a woozy, almost postnatal tone. “Ffs bean bag beans following me to the restaurant,” she comments beneath an Instagram post of white balls scattered across a dark, tiled floor.
They are multiplying it’s a nightmare I can’t stop (knife emoji)
Shoaled together in her studio, the pieces shiver with a working energy; ready to be reactivated, refreshed and compulsively reworked at whim. El Dabi has unconsciously formed her own malleable logic and unwritten set of rules by which this colony operates. There’s a hierarchy at work (“…that one is falling apart; I don’t care; they can go on the floor…”) that elevates some to a higher societal status, whilst banishing those that have fallen out of affection, “behind the curtain.” As such, an older body lies beached and squid-like in a laundry bag in the corner of her studio, its fibrous filling leaking from a gaping wound. This particular outcast’s insides have been transfused into the bellies of newer pieces that make up the exhibition at The Depot.
Dislodged from the activated space of the studio and transitioning across the threshold into a gallery setting, or domestic space, the pieces take on a ghostly air. Amassed within The Depot, they make up a chubby coral reef, or the debris of a sacred ceremony. El Dabi refers to them as ruins. Out of her hands, they recall the sense of melancholy she experienced on a visit to Delos, Greece; the grand marble architecture reduced to a soft cake that crumbled away between her fingers.
These are not pineapples. They’re pretending to be pineapples.
Words by Joseph Bond
Shot by Safia El Dabi