Sarah Valdez

Insofar as trip-hop techno culture has been infiltrated by fashion and is marketed as a cutting edge lifestyle, Anna Kustera’s gallery, thanks to Daniella Dooling, resembled some of the trendier boutiques lining the Soho streets where it is situated; Dooling’s show raised once again the inflammatory question of where art ends and fad begins. The exhibition comprised several disparate elements: two clothing sculptures, a dress and a jacket displayed on mannequins; two videos and two 40-inch-square C-prints presenting the artist wearing these clothes; and five wall-mounted abstract sculptures.

In her New York solo debut, the bleached-blonde, crop-haired artist greeted the gallery-goer on a video screen, where Wardwalk showed her trolling the halls of a hospital wearing her Polyunguia Dress for the Psychotropic Itch. The dress is impractically, obsessively, and sort of beautifully covered with some 6,000 semi-translucent acrylic fingernails, each creepily adhered on its underside with a temporary tattoo of an insect.

With MTV-style fuzzy edges and dizzying cuts the video portrays Dooling as waiflike and spaced-out, occasionally she stops to pose, or absently trail her fingers along some sterile object in the fluorescent-lit corridors. Indian-influenced, synthetic dance music accompanies the video: made in collaboration with Les LeVeque, the soundtrack filled the gallery with an exotic ambient and, by means of its rhythm, moved the visitor to subliminal compliance with the art.

The fingernail dress was paired with a more sinister counterpart, the Camisole, a real-life straitjacket likewise covered with acrylic nails. Dooling wears this with its confining straps undone in a video called Whirling. Here, she is seen spinning with her arms outstretched at high, fast-forward speed through what seems to be a department store.

Two C-prints feature Dooling in her outfits, crouched against a metal stretcher in the hospital, forearm to forehead, looking strung out. The prints are large and a little too well-lit, so that the artist’s veins and pores are unpleasantly emphasized; the effect is disturbing.

The five illuminated, amoeba-shaped wall pieces have flat frontal surfaces punctuated by multiple Plexiglas discs on which Dooling has painted, solely in nail polish, blown-up microscopic enlargements of human cells (thick skin, thin skin, fingernail and hair follicle). There is a digital look to the spots of color, and one is led to consider how magnified skin can look uncannily like a jellyfish or a pomegranate, while hair, up close, becomes a desert sunset or a computer chip.

In this exhibition, dooling effectively transforms the experience of an LSD overdose for which she was hospitalized and kept in a straitjacket to prevent her from scratching the bugs she imagined to be crawling on her skin. Her exhibition brings up interesting questions like what is natural and what is artificial, what is sane and what is not, and whether reality is more real in its external, rational manifestation, or in its internal, artistic display.

“Daniella Dooling at Anna KusteraArt in America, March 1999