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'It's All Chemical' by Julia Colavita at Assembly Room, New York

Life evolved in a sea of chemicals 

We are all made of fertile glop, bodies with fluids just bursting to get out. But the alchemy of organic machinery all takes place outside our field of vision, through spontaneous combinations of liquids and elements. In Julia Colavita’s abstract paintings and sculpture, she strives to capture some of the magic and mystery of chemical interactions. Aesthetically ranging from the medical to the visceral, the paintings and sculptures in “It’s All Chemical” combine recent research in neuroscience with an interest in the mystical, playing with the link between the two. As a whole, they attempt to clarify the mystifying complexities of chemical communications: both within the body and without. 

In many of the works, latex is smeared onto raw canvas, a tactile and squidgy medium that conjures the vulnerability of the flesh. Colavita adds readymade sculptural elements: cheeky eyelashes, mesh and white acrylic fake nails. This debris of body enhancement are reminders of the body’s defence mechanisms, perhaps suggesting that decorating our bodies can provide its own form of evolutionary security . Sculptures in particular are arranged as if talismans left over from some strange ritual, in the search for an elixir or alchemical reaction. As well as offering a sci-fi smorgasbord of textures, “It’s All Chemical” delves into the basic impermanence of living in a body, particularly in existing in the exact boundary between the inside slosh and outside world. 

Crystals are important to Colavita’s practice (as in her previous work “Gem Drug”, 2015). Several find themselves perched on concertina polystyrene foam, glittering reminders of the promise of nature’s magic. Several, however, are fakes, made of soap, a substance whose job it is to keep us safe from the danger of unwanted chemical intrusions. 

More recent paintings, completed just before the show’s opening, take the environment as content, evoking the sea- or sky-scapes that are the endpoint for so many of our unwanted chemicals, whether hormones in the ocean or CFCs in the air. Like swooping nets or graphs filled with mutant cells, these paintings are in the midst of transformation. As if showing the experiment’s microscope, these paintings evoke strange new organic reactions, questioning what we really know about what goes on under the surface of our skin. 

— Josie Thaddeus-Johns 

1.3.20 — 29.3.20

Curated by Yulia Topchiy

Assembly Room

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