There are two human figures amidst the mayhem in Cathy Wilkes's I Give You All My Money, a centrifugal 2008 installation reconstructed for various locations over time, which I lived with, or rather worked aside, at The Renaissance Society in Chicago over the course of winter 2012. Two mannequins, to be exact, naked and with unirrupted breasts, dolled up with red, white, & blue Pierrot mask/faces as if cast in some Carnival revival of the 1980s twice removed. One of them lounged in that way that only mannequins can—unbendingly poised, suspended in permanent plantar flexion above contact with ground—upon a checkout counter; the other brooded upon a ductless toilet, her legs and wrists crossed with a dummy decorum to match the cross upon her cap. These figures of arid consumption and defecation made bedfellows of the marketplace and domestic space, and exposed the white gallery—littered with porridge-encrusted jars, dried petals, ashes, half-collected or half-strewn pottery shards and porcelain doll parts, and horizontal finger-paintings realized in the lap—as part of a vast and resolutely dysfunctional digestive system.
Hamza Walker invited me to give a tour of that show, explaining this choice in his introduction to the event by way of Jodie Foster's exclamation in Contact ("They should've sent a poet"); and I came up with what I called a mobile talk that at the time seemed inextricably mired in the very earthly stuff it described—stuff which seemed, in the terms of another, 2005 Wilkes installation, resolutely Non Verbal—but which I haven't since been able to discursively shake.
Perhaps that's because Futurism keeps coming up nurses.
But that part of the story may have to wait. Let me take a few steps back.
Read the full essay on the Poetry Foundation website.