The Shock of the Now Issue 11
Featured Exhibition Text

Rose Nestler
'Flex Point' Solo Exhibition
Public Gallery
29th September 2021

Donna Haraway’s 1985 treatise on feminist and post-humanist theory ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’ proffers the potential power that can arise from a radical resistance of the traditional limitations of gender, and promotes an embrace of artificiality in order to blur the conventional boundaries between human, animal and machine. Rose Nestler’s solo exhibition ‘Flex Point’ at Public Gallery - the artist’s first outside of the US - is in part influenced by Haraway’s seminal essay, and aims to address the rampant appetite for self-improvement fostered by the unrealistic beauty standards of a problematic patriarchal society, as well as a penchant for self-promotion cultivated by contemporary consumer culture. By appropriating athleisurewear, borrowing from barre fitness classes and conflating cosmetic surgery with mythological metamorphoses, Nestler presents her own dystopian interpretation of the cyborg analogy, an alternative exposition of our modern obsession with appearance, perception and social status.

Upon entering the gallery you encounter a pink leather bag with sprouted, splayed legs - their toes pointed heavenwards - bound to a ballet barre itself with menacing pointy prongs, immediately evocative of the performative, occasionally painful, pointe and flex footwork of a ballerina (from which the exhibition takes its title). Closeby, a cluster of cushions upholstered in wrinkled, glossy blue fabric take the form of a collagen face mask, accompanied by an extending tongue adorned with striking spiked ‘snake piercing’. Elsewhere, the popular pursuit of ‘chiselled abs’ is satirised as an open shirt exposes an octet of lupine teats, hand-carved from rubescent alabaster. 

The gallery’s first floor is given over to the exhibition’s titular video work and accompanying immersive installation, the space converted into a fitness studio complete with inflated exercise balls that litter the floor as resistance bands hang from further barre’s along one mirrored wall. The soothing operatic stylings of Vittorio Giannini and panning shots of the Manhattan skyline give way to a hyperbolised barre class - the latest fitness fad that incorporates elements of ballet, yoga and pilates - overseen by a dominant instructor who barks orders at her subservient congregation, their tracksuit bottoms emblazoned with mantras of ‘BURN’, ‘LIFT’ and ‘TONE’.

Finally, Greek mythologies and Celtic folk tales converge in the gallery’s basement space. A shape-shifting selkie, a seal-human hybrid of Celtic lore, takes the form of a velvet sports bag embellished with conical, tasselled breasts and gym rope accoutrements, while a kelpie, capable of horse-human therianthropy, appears as a model steed with a pair of plaited ponytails.