The title of MadeIn Company’s latest exhibition at Long March Space is something of an awkward phrase— after all, how can consciousness be physical? But the phrase is deceiving: the four character Chinese phrase for “Physique of Consciousness” is just one character different from the Chinese for “ideology,” suggesting that through minor manipulation, ideology can be given concrete form, expressing itself in all manners of cultural production.
In this exhibition, ideology takes the particular form of athletic exercise. Long March Space’s main hall is given over to the eponymous exercise regimen, a half-hour performance by three individuals on blue yoga mats wearing gray warm ups. A second room is filled with airbrush paintings and sculptures made of sponge, such as Prey: Cervine Tiger, white sponge carved into the shape of an animal hide and spray-painted with black stripes. As the foam ages, its color ripens from white to orange, turning the zebra hide into a tiger hide. These are the works that bear the closest resemblance to previous works by MadeIn Company; echoing prior works, we find digitally inspired acrylic on canvas, for example, cheeky cloth dolls scattered around the exhibition, and canvases made of highly tactile cloth.
The performance work, however, most directly reflects the exhibition’s premise. The workout routine is divided into ten parts, each informed by different historical traditions and forms of dance. Part two, for example, features hand movements derived from poses of worship, while part four features more vigorous gestures derived from ceremonies, folklore, and even trance. Wall text describes how each portion of the workout tones not only physique, but consciousness as well: part nine allows the participant to achieve “deliverance from negative thought,” while the entire workout “aims to provide a solution to the continuous antagonism between body and mind.”
In fact, each of the traditions that the “Physique of Consciousness” workout draws from carries its own set of culturally specific markers, its own distinct ideology. For example, many of the movements in part five are derived from yoga; while yoga has come to signify New Age trends, we often forget its origins in the specific meditative practices of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, each with its own history. Moves from part six are inspired by various traditions that involve venerating the earth, making the “Physique of Consciousness” workout an amalgamation of movements as cultural signifiers, a sort of greatest hits compilation of cultural references and dance traditions.
“Physique of Consciousness” presents us with a notion of the body as text, and through its performers, we observe how the body, as a text, inscribes history and culture upon itself, actively engaging ideological tradition through its very embodiment. “Physique of Consciousness” becomes a question, then, not only of consciousness (i.e. How conscious are we of the ideologies that inform our movements?), but also of free will: How much of this has been predetermined? And to what extent do we have agency over our own actions? Angie Baecker