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The Body Implicit


by Sienna Freeman

The ten artworks that I’ve selected evoke, for me, an absent body: a body implicit. It is summoned by my sense memories of cloth or fabric, understood by material impressions stored within my fingertips, conjured by traces of encounter saved in my skin. This absent body is concurrently collective and singular, past and present, social and individual. It is made manifest by a sense of haptic visuality, or a feeling that I can recall with my hands or my nose through my eyes.

Created between 1963 and 2021, the works below are listed from newest to oldest. While they vary in historic context and aesthetic, I find that they coalesce in revealing an active body implied – collapsed, multiple, combined – a plural and individual body that is felt to be missing without showcasing the human figure. I imagine this body as shared between strangers and their ancestors, between cultures and histories, part of one and one of many. I am implicated by it, outside of it and from within. It is as strange and familiar as my own.


Hoda Tawakol, Corps (in)visbles, 2021, Fabric, wadding, thread, 220 x 350 x 25 cm, Installation view at Institut français, Berlin, Germany, Photo by Ivo Gretener


I feel generations of fingers cupping my shoulders from behind and recall a family portrait being taken: my body as a child pressed between the bodies of the women in my biological family. Shortest in the front row, tallest in the back. There are hundreds behind us that we don’t know and can’t see. A profusion of enormous maternal breasts draped in velvet hover above my head. The smell of my mother wearing coconut oil.



Installation View of “David Hammons,” 2019 at Hauser & Wirth, Los Angeles, Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

My fingers pull the zipper from inside the tent. It starts at the bottom near the ground, arches upward and circles over. A round swoosh, plastic teeth weave together nylon threads. A hundred other fingers pull a hundred other zippers in the exact same motion at the exact same time. Bodies rustle inside synthetic huts. We feel another but don’t see each other and rely on thin barriers of humanity to stay separate, invisible, safe, inside.



Kevin Beasley, Monday, 2016, house dresses, kaftans, altered bandanas, du-rags, altered kente fabric, resin, wood, and acoustic foam 78 x 126 x 7 in. (198.1 x 320 x 17.8 cm), Collection of SFMOMA

My 105-year-old black step-grandmother is cooking vegan nut loaf. Her small body dances in front of the hot stove. She swaddles herself in paisleys, florals, plaids, and stripes of varying weights and textures. They dance with her like sisters and in multiplicity provide warmth as an antidote to frail cold. I try to learn the recipe and absorb her generations of glow.


Wangechi Mutu, Suspended Playtime, 2008/2013; packing blankets, twine, garbage bags, and gold string; dimensions variable. Image courtesy of the Artist and Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects.

Cramps, clots, stomach knots. A piece of string wrapped tightly around my index finger from the bottom to the top. Constraint and release. Blood drains and I feel nothing but a throb and then pulse. Unwind. An ebb of warm flow echoes in ripples across bodies since the dawn of time.



Sarah Lucas, Au Naturel, 1994, Mattress, Water bucket, Melons, Oranges and Cucumber, 84 x 168 x 145 cm

A thousand lovers with sweaty backs have fucked on this mattress and will continue to do so for all eternity. It leaves creases on faces and plants loose change to skin. Imprints from pennies call for laughter; a thousand voices chuckle and a thousand cheeks blush looking into the mirrors of a thousand eyes.



Mike Kelley, Lumpenprole, 1991, Acrylic yarn, stuffed animals, 360 x 156 inches

Adolescent hands fumble beneath striped wool sweaters; bodies swim across oceans to be lost at sea, never making it to the other side. What’s beneath the surface becomes a graveyard for the unknown, unseen, but for longing. Desire bubbles up against the surface but remains unsatisfied.



Ann Hamilton, Still Life, 1988, White shirts, gold leaf, wood table, chair, 62 × 42 × 87 inches (overall installation)

It’s me or you, or you and me, and we prepare to dress all of the men, I think they are men. I fold the first carefully and along the seams, you fold in tandem, we join and multiply. Nudes become a staircase; a cacophony of soft structures that shroud our torsos become boxes. They are perfectly overwhelming as they ascend and descend. 



Dorothea Tanning, Hôtel du Pavot, Chambre 202 (Poppy Hotel, Room 202), 1970-73, Fabric, wool, synthetic fur, cardboard, and Ping-Pong balls, 133 7/8 x 122 1/8 x 185 in., Musée National d'Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris

I am this house and I’ve lost control of my formal boundaries. The armchair provides solace as I burrow inside of its welcoming form. I emerge from the table and see myself stuck in transition, stuck in still motion, consumed and subsumed by milk chocolate, pink, blood red, and tan: the colors of both inside and outside of the body. Cloth stands in for skin, stretched, stuffed, pulled. Tweed cannot contain me.




Bruce Conner, LOOKING GLASS, 1964; mannequin arms, dried blowfish, painted wood, glass, shoe, cardboard, cut and pasted printed papers, paint, nylon stockings, fabric, jewelry, beads, string, doll's voice box, fur, artificial flowers, feathers, garter clip, tinsel, and metal on Masonite, 60 1/2 in. x 48 in. x 14 1/2 in. (153.67 cm x 121.92 cm x 36.83 cm); Collection SFMOMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

The smell of silk rotting like an elastic waistband too old and too useless that crumbles in your hands. It used to serve and now it falls limp as I rest my face upon the nape of your neck and breath in.



Yayoi Kusama, Aggregation: One Thousand Boats Show, 1963, Rowboat and oars covered by plaster castings in white cotton, a pair of women's shoes and 999 black and white offset posters on paper, Boat: 23 1/2 104 1/4 x 51 1/8 inches (60 x 265 x 130 cm)

Fingers wiggle, fingers grasp, phallic feelers. They wiggle us along on this long journey, like the feet of a little shrimp. The boat walks for miles alone in search of its destiny, its driver.






Sienna Freeman (she/her) is a San Francisco–based visual artist, writer, and museum professional hailing from Philadelphia via New York state. Her visual work has been exhibited across the United States and internationally in Switzerland, London, Belgium, and Canada. Her writing has been published by ArtPractical.com, DailyServing.com, QCCA (Queer Conversations on Culture and the Arts) and KADIST SF. She published a 68-page visual novel titled “Red Gold” with FUZZ press in 2019. Freeman earned an MA in Visual & Critical Studies and an MFA in Fine Art from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, and a BFA in Photography from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. More here: www.siennafreeman.com and on Instagram @sienna_freeman.