Friday, May 01, 2009

Making the Grade: A Motile Frenzy

[“Who Am I?” (video), 2009. Wall paper (2009).]

Sperm with progressive motility are the strongest and swim fast in a straight line. Those with nonlinear motility also move forward, but tend to travel in a curved or crooked motion. Then those with nonprogressive motility fail to move forward despite moving their tails. At the bottom of the heap are immotile ones that fail to move at all. The former appear to predominate in “Sperm Count,” artist Lennart Grebelius’ second show at the Phatory, which runs through June 7, 2009.

Quantifiable facts that astound by virtue of their enormity are again the focus of Grebelius. In “Sperm Count,” he challenges viewers to step back, compare, and consider sheer the numbers. Typical male ejaculations consist of 100 to 500 million sperm cells—with a typical male ejaculating a several thousand times during his life, adding up to a total production of several trillion sperm cells. Hmmmm… Sounds like the national debt, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, typical females are born with one or two million potential egg cells, per capita, in their respective ovaries (of which only a few hundred will mature into egg cells, ready for conception). Ramifications of this enormous sperm-to-egg ratio are considerable in light of possible numbers of combinations.

Long involved with conceptually-based work, Lennart Grebelius explores sociopolitical issues as they intersect mathematical structures. In this instance, the artist asks about a variety of assumptions related to personal characteristics determined by the shuffling of a nearly infinite deck of cards. Just one difference in that shuffle and: “Viola!” Another very different individual results with very different possibilities of being alive and conscious. This existential pondering goes on in consideration of the tremendous odds it took for an individual in the gallery to be standing there when various couplings are considered: parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc.

In looking at capital punishment, Grebelius similarly veered away from the didactic course in his previous work, “Final Meal.” Rather than looking at the issue in terms of justice, legitimacy, or retribution, the artist peered through the prism of the death penalty’s more mundane details. In focusing on John Michael Lamb who was executed in Texas in 1999, “Final Meal” used the gallery space as a substitute for the cells in which Lamb and other death row prisoners spent their last days. The installation included conventional and solarized enlargements of Lamb’s mug shot, which surround a schedule of the prisoner’s last day’s activity. Projected onto the back wall were the menus of the last meals requested by him and 600 other executed prisoners. Viewers were able to leaf through a book containing the menus and another book containing remarks by supporters of the death penalty. Grebelius brought the viewer into a space defined by the daily realities of legalized death, and established the gallery as a place for the possibility of reflection.

Likewise, this more meditative-than-polemical approach is found in “Sperm Count.” Indeed, surrounded in this gallery with these “swimmers” in action on such media as video, wallpapered walls, and in books, the viewer may feel like an object of a reproductive frenzy. Visualizing such vast numbers can—at the same time—be mindboggling as well as titillating. What were the odds that your mother and father met? What were the odds that your great grandparents had sex at a particular moment, resulting in your grandmother? Impossibly, these questions can be carried back for thousands of generations—through millions and billions of years back in time.

Sperm Count

By Lennart Grebelius

Through June 7, 2009

The Phatory

618 East 9th Street, NYC 10009

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