Patrick Staff: On Venus — at Serpentine Sackler Gallery

Patrick Staff
On Venus
Serpentine Sackler Gallery
West Carriage Drive, London
8 November, 2019 – 9 February, 2020 Curated by Bill Katz

Through a varied and interdisciplinary body of work, Patrick Staff interrogates notions of discipline, dissent, labour and queer identity. Drawing on a wide range of sources, Staff examines the ways in which history, technology, capitalism and the law have fundamentally transformed how we define and identify bodies today, with a particular focus on gender, debility and biopolitics. On Venus is Staff’s most ambitious work to date: a site-specific installation exploring structural violence, registers of harm and the syncretic effects of acid, blood and hormones.

Throughout the spaces of the Serpentine Gallery, Staff initiates a series of architectural interventions: transforming the gallery into a leaking, rudimentary body, a piping network suspended from the ceiling slowly drips a mixture of natural and synthetic liquids into steel barrels, suggestive of sharing intimate fluids, or the trafficking of viruses and data. A single gargoyle, weathered by acid rain, is positioned as gatekeeper to the entrance of the space.

Patrick Staff, (Installation view, 8 November 2019 – 9 February 2020, Serpentine Galleries) © 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning
Patrick Staff, (Installation view, 8 November 2019 – 9 February 2020, Serpentine Galleries) © 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning

A series of etchings are stacked and leant against oversized boxes in the first powder room. The works depict a news story that gained traction in British tabloid newspapers throughout 2017 and 2018, which claimed that convicted murderer Ian Huntley was seeking to undergo sexual reassignment surgery while serving his life sentence. Some months later, the story was found to be fabricated and the newspapers that had printed it subsequently ran meagre clarifications, edited pre-existing articles or deleted the reports from their websites. Reproducing these retractions and clarifications alongside the original headlines, Staff’s etchings on metal highlight the ways in which the media weaponises cultural prejudices and anxieties about the lives of incarcerated people, trangender identity and the use of public spending to mobilise panic and reinscribe social and sexual norms.

On Venus, a new video work, is presented in the second powder room. The looped film is comprised of two parts: the first of scratched, warped and overlapping footage documenting the industrial farming of hormonal, reproductive and carnal animal commodities including urine, semen, meat, skins and fur. Rather than reducing the struggles of animals to a human-centric view, Staff questions the norms, subjectivity and standards by which all ‘others’ are read, measured and controlled and asks what lives are deemed visible in institutional spaces. The video’s second half comprises a poem describing life on Venus, an alternative state of non-life or near-death, a queer state of being that is volatile and in constant metamorphosis, infused with the violence of pressure and heat, destructive winds and the disorientating lapse of day into night.

The exhibition On Venus continue Staff’s ongoing examination of the exchange between bodies, ecosystems and institutions from a queer and trans perspective. The works in the exhibition seek to question the boundaries of the human subject and understand what bodies are made legible within institutional spaces? Which bodies are rendered livable and unlivable?

IMPORTANT NOTICE: This exhibition contains strong and sensitive material, including footage of industrial farming that highlights the abhorrent malpractice that some visitors may find disturbing and is not suitable for children. For more information please talk to a member of our Visitor Services team.

The film also contains flashing images.

via press release, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London
Featured Image: Patrick Staff, (Installation view, 8 November 2019 – 9 February 2020, Serpentine Galleries) © 2019 Photo: Hugo Glenndinning