Art

Artist Fin Simonetti Explores Male Pain with Alabaster

Audrey Wollen

fin-simonetti-sculpture
Installation view of "Pledge" at Company gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Company, New York.

It is hard to could be such a color, the color of the sky. It seems almost impossible that something buried so deep could know how the clouds smear across cold mornings. A mineral composite of every winter dawn. In her recent show, “Pledge,” at Company Gallery, Fin Simonetti’s sculptures, hand-carved from Spanish alabaster, are this celestial, haunting blue: this impossible color. The sense of quiet that trails after such an evocative material seems, at first, in contrast with her subject matter: masculinity, or more specifically, she says, “male pain.” Later, she says, “male absence,” but she doesn’t need to explain how those things equal, overlap, obscure and determine each other. By the door, way up high, a video shows a montage of close zooms on male weight lifters, just as their faces contort at the peak of their incredible power. It looks like they’re crying. It looks like they’re falling apart.

Installation view of “Pledge” at Company gallery. Courtesy of the artist and Company, New York.

Each small sculpture is perched tenuously on a metal railing that cuts through the gallery. I’m reminded of bleak skateparks, and minimalist sculpture: two arenas of culture almost entirely dominated by men. The heavy black line connects the delicate pieces into a single work: the viewer follows the trail, almost “like each object is a still in a film,” she says. A fire extinguisher, cartoonish candles, a flaccid penis, “a lock that’s sort of soft,” ear plugs, and a dog that isn’t there, only disembodied paws, a lonely tail. Simonetti says she tried to “convey the broken body, with the least amount of information possible,” and it’s clear that the negative space is just as much a part of an artwork as the fragile effigies themselves. According to Lacan, the phallus only exists in the form of a lack. The sculptures act almost as pressure points in an acute emptiness, dense sites of meaning and labor that produce the same vibrational twang as an acupuncture needle. Here, the repetitive, familiar image is both made weighty, left in the rubble of antiquity, and softened, encased with raw stone that looks like wet rot on the side of fruit.

Simonetti began to carve stone when her father, who was also a stonecutter, died in 2017. She taught herself. It is a strange audacity of grief that sometimes moves us into a project so ambitious it is “almost devotional,” as she puts it. Each sculpture takes months, using mostly “old-school hand tools,” like a hammer and chisel. The tenderness of the objects combined with the extreme physical feat of their making mirrors the questions proposed by the work, and the breadth of its compassion. On the walls, sun-bleached blue barber shop posters are wall-papered behind soldered chain link, the gaps filled with stained glass. We peep through the empty holes to see a crowd of men, heads bent, looking away. Again, the materials carry a quietness. Offhandedly, Simonetti comments, “I think these reference memorials too, in a way, as a lower octave theme. I’m processing my dad’s death… but there’salso so many other things to mourn.”