November 20 – December 18, 2021
Nino Mier Gallery is pleased to present SQUIRM, our first solo exhibition with Belgian artist Nel Aerts. The exhibition features recent multimedia works that comprise an aesthetic that is as visceral as it is visual. Onanistic ouroboroses, punkish fabrics, deconstructed faces, and many a weathered surface line the walls of Aerts’ first solo exhibition in the United States. Displayed in a salon-style hang, SQUIRM projects viewers into Aerts’ oneiric world—one that is at once lonely and erotic; based in materialism and in fantasy; comprised of fixed objects and charged with the movement of oblique narrative. Forty-seven works will be on view in Los Angeles through December 18, 2021.
Aerts’ practice is known for its simultaneous specificity of aesthetic vision and breadth of materials. After focusing on video and performance in the early 2010s, Aerts delved into a painting and collage practice that translates the sense of atmosphere and story offered by time-based media into the domain of static objects. She traded the camera for a panoply of materials and an interest in iterative representational motifs. For instance, in SQUIRM, towels, doormats, sheets, flannels, and scraps of lace—especially those that show signs of wear and age— all get a second life as the building blocks to Aerts’ roughened, textured landscapes of the unconscious. To these surfaces, the artist takes knives, lasers, ink, pencil, acrylic, oil, spray paint, foam, plexi, varnish, and sandpaper, transforming them with gusto.
But while Aerts’ primary medium shifted, her underlying representational concerns with identity, sexuality, faciality and masking endured. The human bodies represented in her video work are now substituted for tubular, feminized forms that often reduce the figure to essential, biomorphic parts: hands, genitals, eyes, and sometimes faces that resemble the profile views of Egyptian bas-relief. They uncannily appear and re-appear throughout Aerts’ works, primarily in bent postures that seem interchangeably humbled, reverent, and consumed in the act of masturbation. Though Aerts’ figures morph with each work, they all belong to the same hermetic world. This world contains both the snake charmer (The Snake Charmer Eye, 2021; NA; 2021) and the self-devouring, charmed snake (Swallower, 2020-2021; Narcissist, 2021).
The sense of hermeticism displayed by Aerts’ visual vocabulary transforms into an overall thematic of entrapment in SQUIRM. Figures are not only trapped in cycles of self-devourment, but also are trapped within the architectures of Aerts’ abstracted compositions. Some are confined within sculptural forms that mirror
their own bodies’ reductive geometries. For instance, In Trapped (Silhouette Sign Lamp, 2021), a long-haired figure splays her limbs out on all sides of a sculpture’s interior white void, as though she were a hamster caught spinning on a wheel. Elsewhere on the sculpture’s imperfect grid, Aerts inserts Polaroids of herself posed with her paintings and collages. Frames within frames within frames – uncanny figures find themselves stuck within Aerts’ compositions, caught in grids like prison cells and ovals like prenatal sacs. Mise-en-abyme is the new logic of Aerts’ collapsed narrativity.
SQUIRM is titled after a type of movement elicited by confinement – one squirms when one is physically uncomfortable, emotionally ill-at-ease, or filled with restless, unchanneled energy. It is descriptive of many facets of the exhibition, from a viewer’s experience within its dreamlike labyrinth to Aerts’ frenetic artistic process. Aerts works intuitively and associationally, letting the somatic exchange with her materials be a guiding force in her layered creations. Similar to the automatic writing practices of the Surrealists, Aerts trusts in the force of the unconscious to drive her world-building. The salon-style hang of the show, which enables a viewing experience marked by simultaneity rather than linearity, reflects what her studio might look like as she conceives of and constructs multiple works concurrently. It also creates a parallel experience of entrapment not only in the figures represented in her works, but also in the viewer, as the space is cordoned off from the gallery’s foyer with two floor-length, hanging curtains that depict a supine figure with a single, open eye.
Nel Aerts (b. 1987, lives and works in Antwerp, BE) studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium from 2005-2009. She has had solo shows at museums and galleries worldwide, including Eleni Koroneou Gallery, Athens, GR; Carl Freedman Gallery, Margate, UK; Museum M, Leuven, BE; Kunsthalle Lingen, Lingen, DE; Westflischer Kunstverein, Münster, DE; De Warande, Turnhout, BE; Plus One Gallery, Antwerp, BE; Kunsthalle Charlottenborg, Copenhagen, DK; and Vincent van Gogh Huis Galerie, Zundert, NL, among many others.