Sara Anstis "The Petal and the Wrist" @ Various Small Fires, Los Angeles
Various Small Fires is excited to announce the gallery’s second solo exhibition with Sara Anstis, and her first exhibition in Los Angeles: The Petal and the Wrist. Anstis is a world builder and storyteller. On paper, canvas, and in writing, she weaves an auto-fiction that explores the resistance and power of the imagination in the contemporary context. In these works, there is an insistence on the interconnectedness of all life forms, and a rejection of the anthropocentric: background and landscape become foreground and figure, and her human-like animals are left out of some canvases altogether, or relegated to minor roles in which they can only quietly observe.
The exhibition is supported by a recent short story written by the artist titled The Thick Shadow, in which two characters arrive at an island inhabited by dogs where shadows have the capacity to reveal the interrelated nature of life there. This island is reminiscent of Salt Spring Island, where the artist spent much of her childhood and adolescence. The loudest plants in the paintings - Scotch Broom and Dark Throated Shooting Stars - are flowering plants that grow on this island in Canada.
The interrelatedness of animal and plant life takes different forms across the paintings. In The Writer, a woman receives a blood transfusion from a dog perched on her back. Xenotransfusion was a curious trend in 17th century Europe driven, in part, by the belief that animals such as lambs could bestow their calm nature through their blood. In reality, these transfusions carried potentially fatal risks for the recipient; the mixing of blood across species can lead to coagulation and extreme complications. However, on Anstis’s island, the practice works as intended. The canine blood trickling through the IV is directed toward healing a wound on the woman’s ankle. In Bugonia, bees emerge from a wound on a figure’s body, a reference to the ancient belief that bees spontaneously emerged from oxen corpses. Rather than negating these theories that fabulate unexpected relationships between forms of life, Anstis’s practice attends to their narrative richness.
Instead of narrative clarity or moral imperative, these paintings provoke an open-ended curiosity about the world within them. Anstis’s ecology indulges myths with the human at the center, while also depicting plants as protagonists; these pursuits may seem contradictory, but they point to a desire to reconfigure the ways in which the living world may be understood and visualized.