Holly HendryFor a Skeleton to Hang Soft Tissues On

September 16th - November 4, 2017


You are what you eat. 

We think we know our own edges – architectural edges, body edges, psychological edges – these boundaries between interior and exterior, self and other. But to survive, the body must incorporate elements from outside of itself. Eating is our most material need, combining body and thing to produce vital energy to live. Imagine the oval outline of a biscuit before it gives way to mulching jaws, going from product to paste before the swallow (only partly voluntary) where this masticatory mud globs down the gullet. It is squeezed through tubes to the curve of the stomach for gastric digestion, and towards the bowels for further excretory matters.

To consume erases the outlines between body and thing, an absorption of objects that become body. The act of eating involves the individual in a larger social body. Thus, it would seem that our edges slip and slide, and turn inside of themselves. Bodies are messy. We lack definitive boundaries, depositing traces on everything that we encounter, smearing our DNA residues over other objects and beings, merging our biology with other things. Even our guts rely on a microbiome of bacteria to enable digestion, undermining the idea of an individual, autonomous self. 

For a Skeleton to Hang Soft Tissues On – Holly Hendry’s first solo exhibition in Berlin – is an ingredients list, or a doctor’s waiting room. A catalogue of products and foods, an assemblage of breaks and ailments, sculptures with swollen bellies, swallowed objects and missing parts. They are fragments that seek some form of reconstitution. A desire to be blended like soup, or sutured back together to reach their ambition of full bodied seamlessness and molecular unity.

Hendry’s work deals with internal and external in terms of the body, display and production – architectural rear spaces and hidden bodily activities or situations that are brought into view through specific objects, textures or forms. The work relies on the structures she builds, which provide edges or platforms for more compulsive engagements with chunks of materials and processes to happen within.

This new body of work, specifically made for the gallery space, is partly based on items from Mutter museum collection of swallowed objects, a collection of ingested objects recovered by Dr Chevalier Jackson who meticulously catalogued his recoveries. The combination of both strange and utterly ordinary objects is dead-live matter – things that are akin to miniature tombstones of their former hosts. Hendry’s sculptures have incorporated distinctly human belongings, things that we dispose of or lose, remnants. Colour or texture, appearing geological, is made from foodstuff you may find in a kitchen cupboard. These ingredients relate to holistic remedies used to treat aches, pains and aliments. Part geological strata part layer-cake, the artists denies the satisfaction of consumption. Dog chews, swallowing and spices centres the work at the intimate site of the mouth and deep in the sensation of the belly, but this food is to be chewed in the mind instead of the mouth.  Like the board game of Operation, the body is precariously opened for us to poke and prod at its cavities.

We are all in pieces.

Wholes and holes. It is the gaps that help us to realise something is missing in the first place. Holes are access from inside to outside and outside to inside which have a presence through their absence. Sculpture is also full of holes – holes between the sculptures and holes in the sculptures. Holes between intentions and meanings. Something that is as much there as it is not. Our mouth – our most visible and vulnerable orifice is a site of nurture, appetite, language and lust. The gateway to our own insides.

A swallow is a deep hole opening in the earth, a yawning gulf, a capacity, an inclination. It’s a river losing itself in another. Gobbling. It’s to take completely into oneself [1]

Hendry’s works utilise gaps to consider peripheries - the articulation of negative space through solid masses. These ideas emerge through indents, cut outs and chunks of matter that imply a larger body – the removal of matter and the voids left behind. There are cracks in the floor and and holes in the work, made from dug out volumes and carved forms. Hendry’s processes draw parallels with the removal of materials on an industrial scale – like quarries and tunnelling – as well as burial, like grave cavities where people are places which turn to bone and soil. These sites are where our peripheries physically morph and break down into soil, sustenance for vegetables and animals, and a material marker of our memory as a once living being (Hieroglyphics, reliefs, grave stones). The sculptures are both reliquary or grave, with their slab-like thickness, containing cartoonified parts of people and thing.

On a human scale, the work considers our eventual decline. Pins and rods and clamps and technology are used to fix the holes in our broken bodies and make us live longer. As Dona Haraway said in 1985 we are all cyborgs now. Perhaps the idea of absence also speaks of the zombie and the aftermath.

As the Pacific plate moves westwards underneath Japan, it drags the North American plate downwards and westwards with it. As an earthquake occurs, the upper plate lurches upwards and eastwards, releasing strain built up as the two plates grind against one another. In the most recent case, this movement gave a kick to the seabed, displacing a large amount of water.[2]

Hendry’s work draws from a variety of sources from medicine and architecture to archaeology and the cartoon notion of the body. All of which coagulate to form a compressed archaeology of sculptural forms that reference entire biological or industrial systems building up, breaking down, amalgamating and evolving. The works also contain things we produce and shed; clothing, plastics, cans and packet -  layers and materials that will outlive us. Black holes, sink holes, potholes, ice cracks - objects of absence and extinction that are so present, from our own causation. In 100000 years, what fossils will be found in the strata of our time?

There’s a shocking amount of genetic similarity between jellyfish and human.[3]

People are permeable. With the slop of an invertebrate, shapes are given freedom to pan out, to flex and merge. Density is re-plotted, mass is mingled, and the skin is jubilantly invited into new constellations. Hendry’s works have picked up imprints from outsides of buildings and layers on people– fabrics, shells and skins and slices. Works are poured horizontally, the pull of gravity swelling the belly during fabrication. Materials harden, calcify and fossilise, then are turned vertically to stand tall. In this position, the flatter works on the wall are jellied by an impossibility to escape from their dependence on the architecture, like backbone to body, holding it upright. But precariousness prevails, and things fall apart.


[1] Swallow Mary Capello

[2] BBC news

[3] N. Rich, ‘Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?’ The New York Times, 2 Dec 2012, MM32.


Click here for the German press release