The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World
October 22 – December 13, 2015
The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World is a protofeminist utopian fantasy written in 1666/1668 by Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle. Published at the onset of the monarchy’s restoration and in the midst of England’s scientific revolution, Cavendish’s tale may very well be the first work of science fiction and takes surprisingly postmodern aim at the limitations of empiricism and experimental inquiry. Indeed, Cavendish’s notorious 1667 appearance at the newly chartered Royal Society–“her dress so antick and her deportment so ordinary”1–resulted in women’s banishment from the Society’s meetings, a restriction not repealed until 1945.
The Blazing-World begins with the abduction of a Lady by a covetous seafaring merchant. Tempest, aroused by this deed, carries the Lady, the merchant and his crew towards the North Pole where the captors freeze to death. Saved by her beauty and youth, the Lady sails into a new world, the Pole of which is joined close to our own. Upon arriving in The Blazing-World, she encounters a population of hybrid creatures (fish-men, bear-men, bird-men, etc.) who, taken by her intelligence and grace, make her their Empress. The Lady spends her days discussing scientific and philosophical topics with her new subjects, spinning erudite and reasoned critiques of issues then being discussed at the Royal Society by the likes of Christopher Wren, Thomas Hobbes, Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke. (The fleas and lice-men Cavendish conjures in The Blazing-World are a direct reference to Hooke’s recently published Micrographica.) Missing her home, the Empress eventually marshals her new subjects and returns to earth to aid her doppelganger in restoring peace and order, a thinly-veiled allegory of Cavendish’s life in England following her return from exile in France.
The current exhibition presents the work of five artists, three of whom are showing in New York for the first time. Magalie Comeau (b. 1982, Quebec) is a painter of meticulous, ethereal spaces that trace the hysteretic relationships between environment, architecture and biology. The artist lives in Montreal where she shows with Art Mûr. This is her first exhibition in New York. Tillman Kaiser (b. 1972, Graz) lives in Vienna and has shown widely in Europe (Galerie Emanuel Layr, Vienna and Wilkinson Gallery, London, among others), as well as at Honor Fraser in Los Angeles. Kaiser’s complex, radiant abstract paintings are process intensive, incorporating painting, collage, screen-printing and photography. They comprise a contemporary meditation on the future and futurist iconography, bringing the form vocabulary of early modernism into the present. Betty Tompkins (b. 1945, Washington D.C.) is well known for her explicit, photorealistic paintings of sex. Included here are early drawings from 1970/71 belying Pop influences soon to be discarded. Anna Uddenberg (b. 1982, Sweden) is a Swedish artist living in Berlin who makes sculptural objects that comment on the cultural signifiers of femininity and social status. She has recently exhibited at the MEGA Foundation in Stockholm, as well as in pop-up shows mounted by the quasi-collective ML Artspace. Uddenberg’s first show with Sandy Brown gallery opens next month in Berlin. Cajsa von Zeipel (b. 1983, Sweden) is a Swedish sculptor living in New York. Von Zeipel’s androgynous figures possess a disquieting scale and direct and compelling emotional address that is all but absent in current figurative sculpture. The artist’s work has been shown at Modern Museum, Stockholm, the Gothenburg Museum of Art and many other public venues in Europe, as well as Company Gallery in New York (2014).
1 The Diary of Samuel Pepys, May 30, 1667