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Ugh, fuck, can you … can you feel that? That!, right there, that sensation in the auditory canal, the Eustachian tube, curving down along the jaw line, there is something in there … psychosomatic, right? A slight pressure, a loss of hearing—like water in your ear, or an underground platform right before the train arrives—which compresses and builds, and something is most definitely working its way inside, inside where it does not belong. The moth. Ugh, the moth! Wings folded flat, branched rachni of the antenna slicked back, its whole furry body, so stupidly erratic in flight, now looking determined, sinister, a penetrative medical instrument leaving scale-flecked cerumen in its wake … it could unfurl that proboscis and touch tympanic membrane, could keep forever crawling forward and assault the fleshy nautilus of the cochlea, could cause such unthinkable damage, right?, this harmless little moth, by virtue of its position, by its complete and utter disregard for our great corporeal agreement with the world, namely that we—our precious selves, our physical selves, our prosopopoeia with which we acquire tactile knowledge of existence and so satisfyingly, concretely exert ourselves upon it—is entered into only through our consent. To find one's self—literally, one's very self—entered in any other way, to be invaded, is just … wrong. – B. David Zarley, Chicago Contributor


Vesna Jovanovic | Moth, 2013, ink and graphite on polypropylene, 80 x 60 inches. 
Photo courtesy of the artist and Packer Schopf Gallery.

Body politics is now popular politics. Various body shape acceptance movements and the requisite antipathies they engender surface and rise and become BuzzFeed lists and Top 40 radio songs; as the public consciousness beings to understand that idealizations of beauty are various, subjective and transitive, and that such seemingly concrete concepts as sex are, in fact, as porous and malleable as flesh, the endless explorations of the body come out from darkened bedrooms (and bedsheets) and fogged mirrors, extend beyond the typical appreciations, i.e. mimetic representations, and begin to take on as diverse a form as their subjects.

This newer, broader understanding of the body has led to hyper-accelerated sexual loci cycles—think the rapid rise to acceptance of anilingus, the move de rigeur for Modern Good Sex—and have opened various body types to popular objectification—not in and of itself a bad thing—and comparatively popular fetishization; with enough fortitude and an internet connection, any person, of any size, shape, “detriment,” variation, anything, can discover a place wherein their particular form is not only welcomed, but idolized, lusted after.

With increased cognizance of the body, however, comes the amplification of the fear which has always been locked beneath our skin; how often the terror in a horror film materialize with puberty, or the slasher victim finds themselves sprayed and spread and opened, gaping, wide, post coitus, the brutalization and intercourse sharing an alarmingly robust suite of verbs. Few artists captured the dual nature of genitalia and erogenous zones more famously than H.R. Giger, whose world of looming, threatening phalli and menacing orifices informed our most popular science fiction horror franchise, the Cimmerian, oily world of Ellen Ripley and the xenomorphs, creatures for whom the ability to penetrate –let's call this what it is, penetration sans consent: rape—is central to their ability to disturb and captivate; even their excretions burn, their ejaculate literally acid.

Modern corporeal art need not be as extreme as Giger and his chitinous ghouls to provoke thought; one could splinterize something conventionally beautiful, abstracting the body (Cf. the fashion model forms in Paula Henderson's … Looking for You in the Mirror … ) and thereby draw new attention to line, position, and in the process provide a macro perspective on those things vis-a-vis society, or one could fake an entire human being via visual media such as Instagram.

Vesna Jovanovic takes a different path, one which hews closer to the aliens. Her Foreign Bodies, an exposition at Packer Schopf Gallery of immense anatomical sketches, serves to highlight our surprisingly complex relationship with what comes to be inside us, either willingly and not—like the lepidopteran intruder above, which caused your otic formication.

Currently the artist in residence at Chicago's International Museum of Surgical Science, Jovanovic's present post and scientific past is evident in Foreign Bodies; these are not whimsical representations of anatomical structures—mimetic aside from the size, the visual clarification which are the reason for such drawings, and slight relational alterations—but near textbook-quality interpretations. Despite their intimidating size, the pieces seem light, almost ethereal; rendered in pencil, the various inner workings of the observer are magnified, laid to bear, imbued with meticulous texture—the honeycomb bone, the grape bunches of breast lobules, the flat, terrible surfaces of the alien invaders—and disconcerting realism. The bright white Yupo canvases call to mind operating rooms, unnaturally bleached so as to appear almost antiseptic, furthering the scientific aesthetic; Jovanovic does not present to us a moth in an ear canal (Moth) to shock or disgust us so much as she provides us with an example of the titular phenomenon and lets our nervous system do the rest. The simple, descriptive naming system of the exhibition further reinforces this sterile feel. Even Jovanovic's splashes of color, despite their violent and kinetic application—she first lays the plastic on the floor before splashing the ink upon them, sometimes shifting the canvas to obtain quasi-controlled shapes, before drawing her ashen anatomy around the prismatic blobs—feel decidedly laboratorial, the diluted, transparent crystal violets and bile browns of a stained microscopic slide, as if the viewer's gaze has pressed too tightly against a great cover slip.

Not all of the objects are invasive in the antagonistic sense; indeed, with the exception of the moth, Jovanovic's other entrants could all be considered to have come to rest in their respective hosts via various shades of consent; some serve purposes practical, aesthetic, and personal, demonstrating the surprising range with which things come to be inside of us, beyond the usual traumas we associate with being penetrated.

Spinal Cord Stimulator and Cannulated Screws utilize the sanitary whiteness of the plastic negative space to present medical penetrators which serve to mitigate pain or structural flaws; while the spinal cord stimulator cable is difficult to make out sans some background in A&P, the screws, with their brutish purpose, dominate the composition, boldly jutting deep into the bone. Breast Implant is drawn from surgical practice as well, albeit elective surgery (the true “electiveness” of it being up for debate, once again considering how much of ourselves is wrapped up in our bodies). It is almost humorous to see an implant outside of its fleshy confines, like a giant dew drop; that innocuous water pillow seems frightening in its lucidity when juxtaposed with the familiar, fatty tissues of the breast, sitting atop the ribs like an impossibly perfect tumor.

Body politics with regards to femininity are particularly complicated, both for the female form's near-ubiquitous objectification in art, culture, and advertising and the consequent societal pressures, and for that fact that so much of feminine body politics has been dictated by men. While presented as clinically as any other piece, IUD can certainly be viewed through a highly politicized loupe; the intrauterine device itself, easily explicated, sits deep inside in a cruel pantomime of the uterus—the life-stopper—a cold and thin thing which carries enormous cultural weight, a symbol for both liberation and the more extreme measures women have always been forced to take to achieve it (consider this, being placed firmly inside you, or a pill, changing the internal body chemistry, compared to the most common form of male prophylactic, the simple sheathing; I am only capable of speaking as a man, but it seems unfair, what a woman must do for sexual freedom).


Vesna Jovanovic | IUD, 2014, ink and graphite on polypropylene, 80 x 60 inches. 
Photo courtesy of the artist and Packer Schopf Gallery.

Foreign Bodies is fraught with such internalizations, as Jovanovic, eschewing body horror or shock value, instead graphically and impartially depicts the various entrants and lets the observer dictate their reaction, most likely the oscillating between fascination and horror which is indicative of good science. Still, it is likely that what nestles most deeply inside is that fucking moth, dusty declaration that our sacred boundaries are permeable, more permeable than even we realize, and that we can be entered into and reacted upon. Within Spinal Cord Stimulator, a depiction of consensual ingress, there are unusual streaks extending from the ink stains, crystal violet flagella only noticed with an anatomist's microscopic eye; these are the work of winged ants and centipedes, foreign bodies, desecrators … invaders!


Vesna Jovanovic | Detail from Spinal Cord Stimulator showing insect trail, 2014, ink and graphite on polypropylene, 80 x 60 inches. 
Photo courtesy of the artist and Packer Schopf Gallery.

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Vesna Jovanovic is Chicago-based artist specializing in representations of the human form. A graduate of Loyola University of Chicago with degrees in both Fine Arts and Chemistry, she also holds a BFA in Fine Art from SAIC and an MFA in Photography from Ohio State. Biographical content gleaned from vesnaonline.com.

B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist, and book/music/art critic based in Chicago. You can find him on Twitter (@BDavidZarley) and at bdavidzarley.com

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