06 December 2022 Through inflatable latex sculpture, Jenkin van Zyl's Vore explores the liminal space between the human and the monstrous.
In a windowless room on the first floor of Rose Easton in east London, a creature is stuck in a large brightly-lit glass vitrine. It resembles an enormous lizard or a bulbous dinosaur, mouse-brown and rubbery. Upon closer inspection, though, it’s potentially not one creature, but two: a monster and a human intertwined in a deadly embrace, caught in the act of consuming one another, or a strange erotic coupling. The glass enclosure is an infinity mirror on the inside, further defamiliarising various limbs and textures. It is a sight that evokes both the act of visiting zoos and museums as a child and the very adult world of sexual fetish.
“When making the inflatable latex sculptures, I work with this quality that some fetish gear has, somewhere between this language of a children's toy or something really infantile, and then also the look of super hardcore bondage,” says Jenkin van Zyl, the artist behind Vore, his most recent exhibition.
Partly inspired by an impossible fantasy he encountered in fringe online communities – vore refers to the extreme idea of being eaten and digested by someone (or something) alive – the installation also builds on Jenkin’s previous body of work. “The project that I was keen to continue is the film Looners, which was commissioned by the Hayward Gallery for the Kiss My Genders exhibition in 2019. It was shot in the Atlas Mountains in the big abandoned complex of Hollywood film sets,” he explains. “Within that film, there were latex inflatable characters that were roaming this huge desert, becoming objects of extreme desire, but also violence. What interested me in that film was the precariousness of the latex, how these characters get snagged or overinflated until they burst, like a perpetual cycle of inflation and destruction, the pleasure and pain precipice.”
Primarily working with film, Jenkin often also creates immersive sculptural theatres in which to view his works, previous examples including abandoned cinemas and eerie grounded planes. Vore, however, marks a new direction for the artist, with no video element included. Instead, the sculpture’s strange materiality becomes the story’s primary focus: filled with air, but not breathing, it is an arresting illusion in a display case.
Beyond its stark visual impact, however, Vore also engages the viewer in a profound exploration of latex and its long sexual and subcultural history, which has become a much-loved field of creative experimentation in fashion and beyond. Going beyond the fixation on skin-tight shiny outfits appreciated by Julia Fox and Kim Kardashian, it delves a strange space between an embodied experience and obscure internet fetish lore. Jenkin himself started wearing latex in subcultural spaces after moving to London a decade ago. “I’m interested in the inflatables specifically, because there is a tight second skin like a catsuit, and the third skin of the inflatable,” Jenkin says. “You can kind of feel your body both being compressed and expanded – the suit totally envelops and transforms it. I'm interested in sort of ego death and ego collapse at that moment, when the body negates the self and vice versa.”
This interest in self-sublimation, as well as in the synthetic visual texture of latex, also informs Jenkin’s intrigue in the monstrous – more specifically, the murky relationship between the human and the monster. “I'm interested in the human shapes that you can find within the monstrous and the monstrous shapes that you can find within the human. I'm trying to make disgusting things desirable, or desirable things disgusting. It's always about kind of inversions, reflections and echoes of things,” Jenkin explains. “But I think what I personally like about the genre of horror is that it reflects back to the anxieties of the contemporary moment. Body horror can teach you ways to have fun with things that hurt you, to be able to delight in the most disgusting things that are put upon you, whether that is political or societal. I think it's good to have fun with the things that are treacherous, especially now.”
These are interests that Jenkin is continuing to explore in his upcoming solo show at Edel Assanti, Surrender, which will open in January 2023. The show relies on his usual collage-like immersive narrative. Visitors will be invited to enter via the gaping jaws of an enormous inflatable rat sculpture, whose fleshy innards create a sculptural walkway leading to a love hotel. The show perhaps hints at that much-yearned possibility of finally being consumed, but also explores the escapism the artist experiences through London’s nightlife. Above all, though, it offers a possibility to question the nature of perception and storytelling in an over-stimulated cultural landscape. “I think the key thing that I'm interested in are spaces that feel like hellscape or paradise at the same time,” van Zyl says. “The film I’m making for ‘Surrender’ looks at ideas of escapism and exhaustion through my experience of queer nightlife, but also the complicated political potential of these notions”.
6 December 2022