By Abby King
After leaving Rose Luardo’s exhibition at Practice GaIlery I had two impulses; one was to google woods porn and the other was to find out more from this artist. I did the first immediately but withheld from contacting Rose. I didn’t want Velvet Glove to be so interview heavy, to become a mouthpiece for artists. Even though my favorite moments of this project so far have been sitting down with numerous folks making it work in Philly. But to my luck, after requesting photos from Practice I had an email in my inbox from Rose. She asked if I had any questions or insights for her and under a tight deadline I threw thoughts her way. The responses I received were too vulnerable and insightful not to share with you. I’m including her voice weaved throughout this piece. I’ve started to see this as a conversation between us.
Not to leave you wondering, why, let’s return to woods porn. Leaning against the windows of the gallery were tossed branches and sticks. Below was trash, National Geographic Magazines, bras, beer bottles, and sketches of stick figure sex on shredded paper. It was a tableau I’m quite familiar with. Growing up, my backyard was a few short miles of woods. My best friend and I would stumble upon the evidence of parties to which we were too young or not cool enough to be invited. It was like the evidence of far-away cultures where people felt included and sexually engaged. While speaking with the curator Jerry Kaba, he mentioned woods porn is something with which he, Rose and many others have a close relationship. They all experienced seeing sexual material for the first time in the woods. I wouldn’t have minded that. The first time I ever came across the flesh plague was while writing a social studies paper on Bill Clinton. This makes me wonder about pre-google porn cherries. How did you pop your need for fantasy before XVideos or Gayforit? (As Matt was quick to mention.) I fall in that millennial gap where I remember not having the internet yet I had my porn bubble popped via dial up access. The pre vs post internet porn conversation has been hashed and rehashed. Teenage porn addictions, unrealistic expectations, etc. Despite this, thinking back to slow loading digital skin mags makes me nostalgic.
My Daughter's Wedding, is a rainbow smoothie of childhood, sex, and death. It references humor both pre and post internet. The woods porn reflects a time before every google tab held potential while Luardo’s projected frenzied videos are pure YouTube spectacle. A feed loops across the wall, nestled between woods porn and another piece I remember in my head as the boob forest. The most memorable video clip features the artist’s tongue and a potpourri of objects grazing her pink palate. Red lipstick and a stark white background are reminiscent of toothpaste commercials but rather than sell dental hygiene we see products like ginger, tomato, garlic, a red phone, remote control, stack of electric plugs, Eiffel tower souvenir, stapler, and a plastic spider. At first I think she’s licking the ingredients for a recipe. Yet it’s a mishmash as if they were objects found under the El. There’s another video of Rose wearing a white tight dress. The dress serves as a canvas for the cartoon-ish drawing of a dumpy guy as it appears through ambiguous black marks. A pop play of commodification on black and white. Reminds me of some Sia and GAGA styling.
In the center of the room is a casket covered in rainbow fabric. On top and around are used stuffed animals. A funeral for a child put on by children - parents too grief stricken to oversee their plans. Like a Disneyland ride, audience members can climb inside, put on earphones and listen to a 13 minute audio. I took the ride, not without concern. I’ve never been in a casket though I’ve seen my fair share. I also don’t like stuffed animals, those plush germ sites. Jerry closed the casket and handed me the iPhone with the track. I was grateful the casket didn’t close all the way. I wouldn’t have lasted 15 seconds. A tie dye light filtering through the sides managed to calm me enough for 7 minutes.
Before my death ride, I was informed that the voice filling my ears would be Rose’s father talking about a dialysis cruise that he had taken. Her Father talked about his death, a dog who died, wanting to be a good boy. Interspersed with his pleasant voice were fake ads for used coffins - evidence the artist has had plenty of acting and voice over experience. The ads were uncomfortably believable. Come on down and buy used coffins on the boulevard. Everyone’s doing it. Guest voices endorse the product including an admiring pharaoh.
This brash exploration of morality is a purposeful reordering. Rose laughs in the face of ill family members. The inevitable expense of corpse boxes touches on depth without being soul crushing.
My favorite pieces in the show are feminist beacons of humor. I love looking at the Boob forest, or as the artist wrote on her Instagram, “ain’t nuthin as pretty as a wall O’ titties!” Soft sculpture boobs in all shapes and sizes line the wall. Plush tits of several colors, some pointed, some oblong. I feel like a wall of Muppets is flashing me. After learning the breasts are being sold individually, a fellow visitor mumbled to the gallery sitter who couldn’t leave, “they should all stay together.” It’s a weird desire for this man to have, to keep all the boobs as one. Is it that, individually, they don’t seem as awe-inspiring? Do you just want them all? I like them, not as an unsettling wall of mounted trophies but as unique sexual snowflakes.
My main squeeze, menstruation, also gets a shout out. Pink tipped Tampons litter the floor. They migrate along the gallery floors and ceiling. The little cotton butterflies even appeared around the Vox building. I spotted them on First Friday without knowing their origin. My first thought, Did the women’s march forgo those silly hats and start throwing tampons? Are they used? Mine don’t look like that. In the exhibit, one particular tampon is attached to the ceiling with a red string hanging down. It’s easy to overlook in the spectacle, an Easter egg of sorts that brushes unobservant visitors. I wonder what kind of feelings that blood string wants to illicit. It made me smile.
The pink tampons were a byproduct of a performance I unfortunately missed. During February's First Friday, Rose and pals dressed up as mean high school goth girls. They ridiculed a character played by Andrew Jeffrey Wright, threw tampons at the crowd, and called a bunch of people cunts before Rose stage dived into her crowd and surfed to the hallway.
Kaba the curator, said the show is like a glimpse into Rose’s brain. My synapses definitely don’t fire like that but I enjoyed putting on her platform shoes and connecting dots between pre and post internet saturation. Kaba also expressed a prior concern that the show might be too much. It is a lot but that excess serves as an inundative tool. If I read the work as a whole, I see an inevitable cycle from childhood to sex to death. The show reminds me of a word I learned way too late from one of my middle school students. It’s very extra. Of course, as I type the word it becomes uncool. Extra is used to describe something that’s 'so much' it becomes annoying, an over-saturation. Rose’s show is a play on extra by someone who can take advantage of the word, reveling in the over-the-top.
The artist refers to her show as an Amuse-Bouche. It makes sense. We are given bite size portions of a complex other. A boob, a casket, a tongue - all hinting at a greater space we can’t quite see. To find out more, maybe I need to take more walks in the woods.