Slippery Yoke, a two-person exhibition with Rachel Mica Weiss at Carvalho Park, Brooklyn NY 2022

Jewelry, its display, and the body: this is the Slippery Yoke that unites Rose Nestler and Rachel Mica Weiss’ first two-person show. Chain links amplify to larger than life, and stones extend from their symbolic form; jewelry boxes, busts, and holders become bodily. Mirrors—which so often reify our personas in their reflection of ourselves and our adornments—unify the pair’s uncanny abstraction of femininity and its forms. 

The feminine personae that Nestler and Weiss wriggle with embrace adornment while recognizing and understanding its constraints. It is one of ambiguity and works at the intersections of fluidity and rigidity, beauty and the body, and the ensuing distortions of the self. Nestler and Weiss manipulate these external bodily restraints into a seductive, if strange abstraction, suggesting them as a slippery yoke, elusive but persistent.

Weiss, long interested in boundaries (topographical, psychological, architectural) to press up against or slip through, presents five new works invested in jewelry as metaphor and material. Stone—sometimes carved, other times completely untouched—frequently implies the weight of the body's binds. In Bowed Venus (2020-22), a navy blue flocked figure, or Fold, as Weiss calls the objects in this series, perches on a raw alabaster base. Always dimensioned to the artist's height, these Folds formally recall a body leaning against the wall for support. Bowed Venus sags under a chain of carved, white alabaster links that rest heavily on what would be its neck, piercing through the collar bones to connect front to back. Exploiting the stone's literal weight, Weiss plays with the symbolic value of precious stones given from one person to another. Does jewelry and the power dynamics it creates offer a new boundary to slip through? Maybe, but maybe not, Bowed Venus (its title a reference to Botticelli's Birth of the Venus) seems to say. The two alabaster stones that frame this body are a foundation and a limitation, giving shape in its contraction. 

Likewise, Nestler, who often builds upon or reconstructs narratives or myths surrounding femininity and its spectacle, exploits the formal and conceptual possibilities of jewelry display through form and material. Two deep blue T-bars—shaped like a pair of headless bodies with outstretched arms—appear as larger-than-life bracelet stands. Bolster/Holder/Display #1 & #2 (2022) are covered in an exuberant, bright blue jewelry box velvet and could be gymnasts' pommel horses. The twin forms recall Nestler's video Garden Chorus (2018), in which a pair of gymnasts, garbed in peachy pink and technicolor blue, practice their moves in easy synchronicity. In contrast to works such as Garden Chorus (installed as part of a multi-channel video and textile installation, Gymnasia), the body doesn't appear. Instead, its presence and performance are implied through a series of silicone candles, splayed out like many spread legs, signaling a more dialogic approach to narrative making. 

There is a flirtation in Slippery Yoke, an evocative ambiguity that Nestler and Weiss trace through a tension between taut and limp, sleek and soft. In Nestler’s Taming & Charming (2022), a pair of soft leather hands, almost in fists, protrude from an equally Yves Klein blue velvet bust. They loosely grasp a beeswax-colored candle with wicks on either end, its length limply (impishly?) snaking through its fingers. The candle penetrates the fingers but resists their total grip. In Weiss’s Well for a Gazer (2022), a compact coil of oversized, amber-colored links hovers just off the floor, supported by radiating silvery chains. Pulled to peer into this well, one’s gaze is nevertheless denied reflection. In both works, the body is implied but archly obscured, and entanglement is elastic. 

Nestler and Weiss’ formal and conceptual strategy for tracing the circularity between vanity, personae, and observation is mirroring. Both incorporate literal mirrors into their work, but moreover, they tease out echoes of images (art historical or personal) or coyly offer reflection before refusing it. Their surfaces—stone, silicone, velvet, or resin—gesture toward the sleekness of glass while retaining their particular material properties. When they use actual looking glass, Nestler and Weiss manipulate or contextualize it so that it is almost ineffective. In Weiss’s Flesh of My Flesh (2020-2022) and Nestler’s Two Gazers (2022), mirrors are a means for doubling and obscuring. In the former, a curved, sand-toned Fold contains a flocked obsidian stone on its mirrored lap, the rock itself occluding its reflection. In Nestler’s work, two church keyholes inside a jewelry-bust-inspired form hide a pair of mirrors, which are, once found, obstructed by two droopy candles. Similarly, in Nestler's Narcissus Box (2022), her softly rigid bouquets pierce a mirrored case. Daffodils bloom on either side of this locked little vessel in opposition to one another, reaching away from their reflections. If we face Narcissus head-on, its size and shape bisect our reflections. The gaze is interrupted throughout Slippery Yoke but nonetheless persists by producing a triumvirate between self, reflection, and viewer.

An uncanny evocation of an absent body suffuses Weiss' Collar (2022), a large circle of light to dark amber links like an enormous necklace absent a neck. Like Well for Gazer, strands of silver fan outwards in support, its curved, luminous resin heft looped and propped by tight metallic filaments in a rhyming of chain links. Collar is a ring with no finger, chains with no neck. Who will fit through its opening—who will puncture it? This repetition of form, color, and support creates an eerie echo of emptiness in Nestler's Bolster/Holder/Display #1 & #2 in their beady chain, lax handheld mirror, and a row of flaccid candles that pierce the surface. These shapes could reference poles of the gender spectrum, but in their abstraction, they swing on a spectrum of sign, signifier, and signified. 

Slippery Yoke is a kaleidoscopically concise show. Each object is like a discrete piece in a chain reaction, puzzling together a meditation on the mediation of adornment and ourselves. Ambivalence is less an equivocation and more of a tactic to explore the nexus points of interiority, exteriority, and identity; ambivalence is a means to manipulate the familiar into something more malleable than static, more permissible than traditional. Just as a kaleidoscope harnesses refraction, the pair yokes the metaphorical meaning of jewelry to evoke the ever-evolving circularity between the body, its image, and its many personae. 

Text by Leah Triplett Harrington