After graduating from Beaux-Arts in Paris, Sequoia Scavullo debuted her first institutional solo show in Europe with the exhibition „The Taste Of Your Fireplace“, recently on view at Kunstverein Bielefeld.
Scavullo’s name reads like a poem – and one may expect nothing less from her work. With her dreamlike paintings, mysterious objects and cryptic symbols, Scavullo opens a portal to her imaginary universe – the kind that entices you to get lost in it. Her works tap into the depths of the unconscious as she draws on the cultural heritage of her family's Taino roots, whose influence and inspiration, especially relating to dream analysis and the depiction of ritual actions, can be felt throughout the show. ‘A sensing of the invisible’ seems to be what lies at the heart of the exhibition.
Upon entering the space, visitors encounter curved wooden forms, whose placement on the floor and the windowsill seems almost incidental. The mystery of these enigmatic objects is resolved in the next room, revealing the conceptual core of the exhibition: the painting Sequoyah’s Doubled Edged Sword (2021). The large-scale canvas depicts similar shapes to those of the wooden objects within a floating alphabet created by the artist to manifest a system of signs for her nonverbal language. These invented symbols appear as a legend inscribed on a scroll or sandstone rising from an amber liquid in which cereal crops and two clasped hands appear to float, figuratively representing the senses of smell and touch. In contrast to Hildegard von Bingen's famous Lingua Ignota, the individual symbols do not merely describe sounds combined to form words but include several sensory perceptions.
Sequoyah’s Doubled Edged Sword also references the sense of smell. The moths that have been stuck to the lower edge of the canvas are of a specific species that produce pheromones used in the perfume industry. This invisible form of communication resonates with the logic of Scavullo's language system based on sensory experience. We are again reminded of St. Hildegard, whose holistic approach, sense of spirituality and affinity to nature draw further parallels to Scavullo’s artistic practice.
In this context, the relationship between life and death, between waking and dreaming states, is most relevant. Throughout the exhibition, the visitor gets glimpses of something otherworldly. The paintings seem to detach themselves from what we call reality and rather float in a place where binary states of being or consciousness do not apply. Everything is in a process of transformation or transition; vital water turns into nebulous clouds, blazing flames to ashes. Hazy mist and smoke rise up at the painting's edges, obscuring the depicted like a mysterious veil. Elsewhere, we see bodies, objects and sceneries floating fluidly on the canvas.
As such, the work I Stepped Into the Water, Thick Dusk, Knowing I Could Never Leave (2022) shows a foot stepping into stormy waters. Thick dark blue brushstrokes press powerfully into the canvas and seem to be drawing in the depths by their materiality alone. The instep is adorned with tattoos of colourful stars, hearts and symbols similar to those at Sequoyah’s Doubled Edged Sword. Along one toe, the numbers "1970 - 1997" can be read, possibly marking the time a beloved spirit of the artist spent on earth. Fearlessly, the depicted person enters the deep, dark unknown, despite knowing – as the title reveals – that there is no return.
A stone doorway leads down to the lower part of the exhibition. Mirroring the painting's motif, the visitors step through a portal to enter the unknown depths, so to speak. As they reach the bottom, they face a sheer curtain covering the work behind it. The proverbial veil of the paintings transcends into the physicality of the exhibition space, creating a scenographic analogy to the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice: the singer and poet Orpheus descends into the underworld to bring back his beloved Eurydice – though on one condition. He must not look back to her when leaving the realm of the dead. But Orpheus cannot resist turning around and lifting his wife's veil. This unveiling sends Eurydice back to the underworld, from which she can never return – echoing the daring moment depicted in I Stepped Into the Water, Thick Dusk, Knowing I Could Never Leave.
Lifting the silky curtain, visitors encounter the work Le Voile d’Isis (2022). A full-lipped mouth and a pair of eyes with long lashes peer through a thick haze of purple and yellow hues. Presumably, the golden-glowing goddess Isis is portrayed wearing a shimmering veil. A popular motif in art, the veiled Isis symbolises spiritual awakening and the revelation of the mysteries of nature. This all-encompassing awareness and holistic worldview seem to form the essence of Scavullo’s artistic work.
But Isis is not the only veiled woman in the exhibition. The paintings Bride (2022) and Bride II (2022) also depict female characters whose faces are covered by a transparent, mesh-like fabric. The latter shows a bride in a state of ecstasy, surrounded by pink, fleshy folds, shaped like a vulva. This moment of matrimony seems to mark a rebirth. Scavullo may not be referring to a conventional marriage here, but rather her dream of marrying the ominous „Horseboy“. The Horseboy II (year) painting features an imaginary wedding certificate floating among powdery pink and purple clouds. Glistening white light and enigmatically shaped lines emanate from the open pearl oyster in the foreground of the painting. This beam of light could indicate a turning point, a transformation, like the death card in tarot.
Sequoia Scavullo's solo show „The Taste Of Your Fireplace“ invites visitors to repeatedly witness these moments of transformation, be it through encounters with deceased ancestors or imaginary lovers, odorous chemicals from moths' corpses, or the changes from water to mist and fire to ash. Like a portal, the exhibition leads to a place beyond the physical world, evoking a sense of transcendence within us.
The Taste of Your Fireplace
12/11/22 – 15/01/2023