by Alan Longino
The romance of the body is a difficult position to work around. That’s not the purely sexual or loving idea of Romance, but the Romance of intimacy and nature within the body.
The body is gross. Gross things happen, in every person’s body, and some bodies are especially gross. Before you take someone inside or enter another being, you presumably know most, if not everything, about their body and the things they are, or it is, capable of, but you never imagine their body decaying in front of you. So, you proceed.
The idea of the body where one can intensely repulse and equally attract is where I find Matthew Cianfrani’s work most located. However, beyond all sexual desire or biological nerve, it is the physical space and limits the body inhabits or tests that appear to be his more defined thesis.
In this last semester of his MFA work, Cianfrani has put together a body of work that is literally that: the body. Placing the body in a digital context, a physical context, and working in the agency of charity, the body—his own, that is—takes place as a literal tool (in running the New York City marathon) that acts out assigned tasks where few precedents exist. It would be easy to deem this as performance art, but besides there being no actual performance during the exhibition, the performance, or what I’d like to think of as ex-performance, revokes the now brill tropes of studio and gallery performance. That is, it is outside of performance. The work, his body, has taken place inside the studio and outside the studio, both through technology and on the road.
The work incorporates glitch, or rather net art. In net art, or the novel idea of entropy, there is held the idea of death and the internet. Or, death and technology — through diminishing utility, atrophy, and physical death in the internet. It is impossible to imagine the body, or parts of Cianfrani’s work – particularly the philanthropic portion, where money was raised for returning soldiers – without evoking the idea of death, or severe incapacity. Within the video piece, Cianfrani’s nude body is turned away from the audience. Parts of his body repeatedly die or become victim to technology. Questions arise. Does he have enough to run the marathon? Does he have enough to complete the philanthropic portion of the work? Has he retained enough concentration to succeed in the actual exhibition for his thesis? What we can decide from this ex-performance is that it is not entirely up to us. Cianfrani has not taken the artist’s hand out of the work. He has taken the audience out of the work.
It is outside from the audience, but not outside visual criticism. This ex-performance is a part of the larger artwork, involving his own philanthropy and actual exhibition space, and in this triptych the artist is totally, and irrevocably, humbled.
The work does not face you, but it challenges you. The work does not expect you to rise to its challenges, but it’s certain that the burden is not for you to bear. It is Cianfrani’s alone, and its feat of challenging a human’s capacity, or pioneering, is truer than the Michael Day Jackson show at Hauser & Wirth or other post-humanist cum commercial efforts.
Cianfrani’s work does not boast, nor does it beckon and bemuse, it is straight-forward and without bullshit. In a market and world so saccharine with such, it is refreshing to find an artist, particularly a student, searching not for acceptance and a criticality from the outside, but acceptance from inside.
Alan Longino is a MA candidate in the Art History program at Hunter. He enjoys writing and net art, and takes little with much seriousness or exceeding gravitas. Except writing and net art. Ask him about art.