Docile Bodies

October 1 - November 12, 2016

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Docile Bodies

October 1 - November 12, 2016
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LA Times

Gallery Luisotti is honored to present a masterwork by Lewis Baltz, part two of his sites of technology trilogy, Docile Bodies from 1994. This is the first time this monumental photographic installation has been shown since 1998 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where it was on view alongside the rest of the trilogy, The Politics of Bacteria and Ronde de Nuit. Altogether, the three sets of multiple Cibachrome panels are a stark, destabilized examination of state surveillance, proliferating technology and the fragility of the human body. Created after Baltz had abandoned the United States for France, the prescient works are even more forceful today in the wake of technology’s increasingly sleeker and globalized hold on everyday life.

Docile Bodies derives its name from a chapter of Michel Foucault’s 1975 book Discipline and Punish. While the book as a whole deals with the move away from outright torture to the development of prisons in French society, it engages with the ways in which those in power condition the vast majority of society’s members to be compliant participants within institutions such as the military, organized religion, and schools. One of those tools is technology, which at the time was as simple as the clock, which allowed one to track productivity. Baltz’s referencing of Foucault is rather direct in this work and shows the development of new kinds of technology, specifically medical, that allow further compliance with dominant systems.

The glossy panels of the work show a fully clothed person entering a scanning machine, various x-rays and body imaging renderings, doctors and nurses, an elderly figure placing her IV-injected hands on her head, and a few closely cropped views of medical procedures. The scale of the work and slight reflectivity of the panels engages the viewer directly; one sees oneself closely aligned with Baltz’s composition as well as the degradation of the body over time as seen in the patients. The presence of a jaundiced colorcast is further unsettling. As in the other sites of technology works, it is ambiguous as to whom the advancements actually benefit. That’s particularly true in the American context, given the punitive healthcare costs regularly levied on citizens.

The presence of health and wellness in popular discourse is today unprecedented. Baltz, making these works over 20 years ago, anticipates the ever increasing blurring between man and machine. In so many ways humans are already bionic, but in the recent past, the invention of wearable technology such as Apple’s Watch or the Fitbit activity tracker signal willingness by consumers to self-monitor. Returning to Foucault, this self-regulating has the aim of increased worker productivity. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook called the Watch “the most personal device we have ever created.” Baltz’s Docile Bodies serves as a reminder that the personal, as always, is political.

Lewis Baltz (b. Newport Beach, CA, 1945; d. Paris, France, 2014) held various teaching positions and professorships and his works have been featured in numerous international solo and group exhibitions, including New Topographics at George Eastman House 1975, the 1977 Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of American Art, in New York, the PS1 Museum, in New York in 1991, the Art Institute of Chicago in 2010, the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC in 2011, the Kunstmuseum Bonn and the Kestnergesellschaft Hannover in Germany in 2012, the Albertina in Vienna in 2013 and at LE BAL in Paris in 2014. Two exhibitions will be dedicated to the artist, at the MAPFRE in Spain in 2016, and the Grand-Hornu in 2017 in Belgium.