Sarah Peters’ show at Eleven Rivington, up through May 17, is a streamlined, contemplative installation of five bronze heads on pedestals that seem to be bearing witness to something we can’t see. The male and female busts are often propped up by their hair – tiny rivulets of curving incisions neatly corralled into terraced cascades. These passages of hair are hypnotically soothing, seducing you into the kind of trance that the heads themselves are in with their spooky eye holes and alternately solemn and gaping mouths (the men are serious, the women are agog). It’s hard to tell if these women are catatonic, singing, or waiting for a sexual experience. They stare through time in their elemental tarry blackness and recall the long tradition of the human need to re-produce its own likeness.
Sarah and I went to the Met last week, something we’ve done together many times over the years. I love seeing the history of figurative sculpture through her eyes. The dense patterns of an Assyrian hairstyle, the carved out eyes of a Corinthian helmet, the oddly pursed lips of a Roman portrait: all of these motifs are explored in her work. Once she indoctrinates you into a state of hyper-awareness, you begin noticing the poetic architecture of it all.
A head is like a sculpture on the pedestal of the neck and shoulders. The hairstyle is like a decorated helmet, offering protection and expressing extravagance. The beard is tended to like a sculpture that extends from the face, its presence a sign of wisdom, its ornateness a symbol of a man’s place in the social hierarchy. Sarah plays with these ways of representing the head, but enhances them with religious fervor and an eccentric, almost outsider quality.
But there is another side to her work which is funnier and more twisted. It’s not just art history that informs her work, but the vulgarity of sex dolls, the wrongness of illustrations of people with facial palsies, the awkwardness of damaged mannequins. And when I was looking deep into the non-eyes of one of her open-mouthed woman sculptures, I swear I saw Twiki from the 1980’s science fiction tv show, Buck Rogers.