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'BARE HEEL COUNTRY' by Alison Yip at Dortmunder Kunstverein, Dortmund

Welcome to Bare Heel Country! Collectively vulnerable, bare heeled - we ride without saddle, a true sensation, a purity myth. 

With her new installation and series of works, Alison Yip creates a country of bare heels and takes us along an aesthetic examination of pain and sensory experiences; A flickering new dimension filled with languished encounters between ladies and unicorns. 

The installation of sewn-together jeans and bleached and torn denim establish a loose architectural setting for Yip’s paintings, recalling backgrounds of pre-Renaissance portraiture. The textiles create an abstract landscape and architecture of archways and windows, generating spatiality through their various shades and layering. The way they dress the walls stand in for a well-known Belgian Medieval tapestry. For this exhibition Yip refers to the six-part series 'The Lady and the Unicorn' (originating from around 1500, now part of the collection of the Musée de Cluny, Paris). The unicorn is a hybrid being consisting of part goat and part horse with the horn of a narwhal. From Antiquity, it has been known as a mythical creature which can only be caught by a female virgin. With the woman and the unicorn as protagonists, the original tapestries depict the five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell – as a six-part cycle of images. The sixth image can be interpreted as an unspecified sixth sense: Could it be empathy? Sexual desire? 

While the relationship between the woman and the unicorn has been exhausted through its excessive depiction over centuries, Yip asks the question of what bargaining power remains for these characters as historical figures of doubt. In a palette of desaturated colors, the paintings underline the exhaustion of the subjects and resonate with the denim fades. They also reflect the doubts of the artist: what symbolic and figurative value remains to be discovered in this symbiotic motif? The paintings play with the perspective of the two figures and their roles: Dominant or submissive, nervously strained, thirsty, caring or completely distorted, like the 'unicorn-humunculus' that Yip maps out in her painting 'Possession' (2020).

Her works repeatedly address extended somatic perception and the subjectivity of pain. The 'wordclouds' attached to the windows of the Kunstverein echo institutional decor and create a linguistic map, staking out two semantic fields. While one wordcloud mixes institutional language and personal desires, the other one depicts the pre-linguistic, inexpressible, subjective dimension of pain.

Within her installation, Alison Yip negotiates the role of fantasy within a post-truth world and navigates the parapsychological origins of figuration. In her smaller paintings, which are materially more dense and refined, the figures depicted are to scale with the viewer's cranium to help bridge a cognitive access to the imaginary - a phenomenon observed by writer Elaine Scarry.  The painting 'BARE HEEL COUNTRY', which lends its name to the exhibition, depicts a muscular woman seen from a bird’s eye view, carrying the unicorn through a dry desert landscape. A drop of water on the lower edge of the image magnifies the cracked earth. The Bare Heel Country needs water to be fertile.

— Rebekka Seubert

31.10.20 — 2.5.21

Dortmunder Kunstverein

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