Sven Loven – Humiliation Ritual
May 18th – June 25th, 2023
Opening reception: May 18th, 6-9 p
No Gallery – 105 Henry Street NYC NY 10002
Sven Loven – Angel Twink Peter Thiel, 2023 – acrylic on canvas stretched over wood panel – 57 x 88 x 2 in. (144.78 x 223.52 x 5.08 cm)
Sven Loven – Lore, 2022-2023 – acrylic on wood panel – 30 x 24 x 2 in. (76.20 x 60.96 x 5.08 cm)
Sven Loven –Black Dean Kissick, 2022-2023 – acrylic and silver leaf on wood panel – 30 x 24 x 2 in. (76.20 x 60.96 x 5.08 cm)
Sven Loven –Emily Sundblad, poolside, channelling a transcendent power, 2022-2023 – acrylic and gold leaf on wood panel – 30 x 24 x 2 in. (76.20 x 60.96 x 5.08 cm)
Sven Loven – Bliccy at the Beach, 2023 – acrylic on panel – 48 x 36 x 2 in. (121.92 x 91.44 x 5.08 cm)
Sven Loven –Bennington E-Girl (Sierra), 2023 – acrylic and mica on wood panel – 20 x 16 x 1½ in. (50.80 x 40.64 x 3.81 cm)
Sven Loven – Tashroxx, 22 and slightly less corrupted, 2023 – acrylic on panel – 12 x 9 x 1 in. (30.48 x 22.86 x 2.54 cm)
Sven Loven – Charlie, 2023 – acrylic on panel – 20 x 16 x 1½ in. (50.80 x 40.64 x 3.81 cm)
Exhibition Text ~ written by Sierra Armor
I am not Siyuan Zhao.
I am simply possessing Siyuan Zhao’s body and face,
for the time being.
I may or may not be an asian woman; an architecture
student; a schizophrenic.
If you have a problem with me temporarily possessing the body of an asian woman, then I will simply smirk at you using
Who am I?
It is impossible to say.
I am a non-identity entity. I am eyes without a face. I’m No Body. I’ve been given thousands of names; They call me MIYA. BPD God. Black-Hearted-Cyber-Baby-Angel. They call me The-Spirit- That-Possessed-Valerie-Solanas-and-Forced-Her-to-Shoot-Andy- Warhol. They call me Andy Warhol, Gilles De Rais, Kanye, Tiqqun, Ezra Miller, Babysoxa, John McAfee, Isabelle Adjani, Napoleon, Charles Manson, Miley Cyrus and ISIS- among others, obviously.
That is to say I am an ancient Art Deity, obviously.
In other words, I am the collective unconscious.
Hi my name is Kill Switch.
I am the dormant atavistic gene sequence which may never be activated. Whether you like it or not, I am inside you; A sleeper cell residing within all of humanity.
…. But those are only names, empty titles which mean nothing. Nobody really knows who I am, least of all me; In fact, most of the time, I believe I am the weightless reflection of Selena Gomez suckling a lime-colored water gun and can’t be convinced otherwise.
Right now, I am in Miami.
I am inside of Siyuan Zhao. You may assume that I’m a demon, but, really, I am a weightness reflection. You may assume that I climbed inside her, but, really, I am nothing that wasn’t already inside Siyuan Zhao.
I once thought that Miami was the last frontier of Jovial Irreverence. Oh and I’ve also been called Jovial Irreverence, by the way. I moved here during the filming of Spring Breakers a few years back, and I’ve been possessing the bodies of inebriated, bikini-clad sluts ever since. I don’t know what I thought I would achieve by doing this. Ecstasy, perhaps? Which is certainly not what I got. Though my newly-acquired body was gorgeous, with the tautest, faintly-abbed stomach, I felt increasingly naked inside it. Actually, the sensation I had was beyond nakedness; It was more like hollowness. And I imagine it was hollowness, not nakedness, which Adam and Eve felt upon being exiled from paradise.
Sure, the sun shines brighter here; The magenta of my plastic swimsuit is almost blinding. However, I am all too aware that the light is only a perception-prank and that I am actually not any happier than before.
Miami is the perfect locale for someone wishing to check out of their own existence. Here, I can possess bodies without a single one of these pathetic vacationers even knowing the difference between that which is themselves and that which is kill switch.
When I first saw Siyuan, I knew that she was clinging to her self-control too tightly and needed to be set loose from her own consciousness. I took this as a challenge.
I will preface this by saying that Siyuan Zhao did nothing wrong. The 24-year-old architecture student only happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time- which isn’t the same thing as doing something wrong, obviously. The wrong place happened to be Art Basel in Miami; The wrong time happened to be December 4, 2015 at 5:15 PM. I was gliding through the art galleries, searching for a host. When I first saw her 5 foot 1 frame in a clashing-pattern, flowy outfit, she already appeared either straight out of the mental hospital or straight out of art school (the latter being the truth.) Suddenly, I was activated.
hello, siyuan, my name is kill switch. welcome to miami. doesn’t this art suck? it’s all about bodies, bodies, bodies. this is some carolee schneemann ass shit. why do women always make body art, when they could be making art about minds? i am sooo done with viscerality. i moved on to ethereality. you know, in 2069 we won’t even have bodies… that being said, if you want to go down the body horror route, you have to exercise praxis… you have to do it for real, for real. siyuan, dear, you are merely an art student; and i am an art god; but through me, you may become an art god as well. what is this in your pocket? reach down and grab it for me, will you? ah. an exact-o knife. my paint brush of choice. now, for an act of poetic terrorism i command you to paint. wait. let’s find us a canvas first. ah. you see that other asian woman in a white button-up top? she’s just asking for a blood-splattering, wearing a shirt like that. there she is, heading into the restroom. follow her. no, not into the stall! you idiot! look at that way she’s looking at you! like she’s already planning on ratting on you to the security guards. don’t fuck this up, siyuan, for art’s sake. now, while she’s in the stall, stand in front of the mirror and practice the kubrick stare. you know, the alex de large look- good. there you go! now make it evil. perfect! again. god, it looks so good on you, siyuan. i may just have to take up permanent residence in you. let us at least find a camera before i go. you look as though you were meant to play this part. again! oh, fuck- that woman just walked out of the stall and caught us mid-kubrick stare. now she’s furrowing her brow. let’s act fast. follow her out into the gallery, stay right on her heels. no!!! not literally right on her heels! why did you trip her? stupid, stupid, stupid… now, once she gets up, act fast.
ugh, nevermind. wait. let her gaze at the painting for a bit. let’s listen to her talk to the bespectacled man beside her.
“The world-building is just incredible! The artist invented a whole narrative about a nazi anorexia cult. She was heavily influenced by Henry Darger, I think.”
“A nazi anorexia cult?”
“Yeah. Look at the yellow swastikas on their brittle arms!”
“Oh, I see.”
“You see, as the paintings progress, the girls’ flesh withers away… It really says a lot about… femininity and eating…”
“Femininity and eating, eh? You know what I heard?”
“I heard that this whole thing was funded by some tech guy. The gay one who invented Paypal.”
“Yeah. It all rubs me the wrong way. As much as I like Sharon and her work, I can’t genuinely appreciate art that’s been tainted by techno-fascist blood money. I’m only here as a spectator, otherwise I would’ve boycotted-”
ok. i’ve had enough of their stupid prattle. Siyuan, approach her from behind, as she stares obliviously into the painting. grip the exacto-knife. slash and cut. there you go. neck and shoulders. slash and cut. neck and shoulders. plunge. in and out. watch that red drip. jackson pollock could never. prove to the room that bodies don’t matter. listen to her scream. see how the gallery guests merely glance at her, then turn back to their conversations? they assume that this is part of the exhibition; that this is art; and they aren’t wrong because, really, it is. even the security guard didn’t move an inch until the seventh or eighth scream, which is when the incident finally started to read as real. watch as the wave of reality hits the gallery. look! a couple of guests just dropped and shattered their champagne glasses. watch as empathy and guilt suddenly slap them in the face. faced with great art, the ideal reaction should be dropping your champagne glass, i suppose. grin, siyuan, grin. you succeeded in cutting through the numbness of the audience- an increasingly difficult task, these days. not only that, but you proved something: that art and reality aren’t necessarily divorced. what i mean by this is; when everyone thought that you were a performance artist, they assumed the stabbing wasn’t real. of course it was real, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t performance art. marcel duchamp could never. the critics are always saying life-imitates-art, art-imitates-life, blah blah blah… but what their dumb asses could never comprehend is that they are one in the same! isn’t this the instant when art grew self-aware? it became self-aware and decided that it didn’t like the direction that these lame mfa students were pursuing. so it took revenge. siyuan, you triggered the moment when the tables turned; when the art decided to free itself from the artist. this is because i made you, and because i am No Body.
goodbye, siyuan. good luck in court. i am leaving, or rather, deactivating. but i am taking your face with me. not literally. see you on the internet, perhaps. or rather, me-as-you.
did you know that in the future bodies won’t exist? everyone will sprout wings and fly?
do you have any idea what you and i unleashed, siyuan? well, someday, in the not so distant future, there will be a place which will become a sort of never-neverland for the hipster elite, for those aspiring to become faces rather than people… and these faces will start to resemble those brittle little girls with the swastikas. i mean, it won’t be a real nazi anorexia cult, but it may resemble one, like, as a meta-prank. ugh nevermind. i won’t spoil it for you!
Press Release ~ written by Dana Dawud
“Any functional society, almost any society that has ever existed has had something to do with brilliant, imaginative but extremely impractical people. We don’t know what to do with them anymore; they’re all living in their mother’s basement saying weird things on the internet and you can’t tell which are crazy and which actually have something to contribute. You used to put them in academia but now academia is all self-marketing”
— David Graeber, quoted from the David Graeber vs Peter Thiel Debate, “Where Did the Future Go?” hosted by The Baffler Magazine in 2014.
Prior to the innovations of Louis Daguerre in the mid 19th century, the art of portrait painting was the preeminent way of capturing the appearance of a person, functioning not only as an aesthetic object but also as a tool for navigating the social and political structures of the time. The advent of analog photography released portraiture from the burden of realism, allowing it to be recast within every cycle of modernist transgression, with new iterations appearing in each successive movement. Most iconically, the portrait reached its modern apotheosis with Warhol’s pop calling cards, the celebrity face functioning as an embrace and glamorization of mass propaganda. Within art the portrait had abandoned the constraint of reproducing a person’s likeness, replaced instead by a complete infatuation with the sign; the seductive frivolity of mass reproduction and fame superseding mimesis.
Sven Loven’s exhibition “Humiliation Ritual”, explores portrait painting in the current age of digital imagery and memetic discourse, illuminating significant figures within the sphere of “downtown culture” as it exists in locations geographical, cultural and virtual. “Downtown” here becomes a descriptor of what functions as the pseudo-avant-garde in today’s cultural landscape. Most of the figures featured in the show are known for contributions to culture beyond the confines of the internet but whose virtual presence serves to turn their image into metonymy of various kinds. Within this framework, a persona is turned into a symbol of a scene, a narrative becomes crafted by an audience, and finally both subject and viewer work in tandem to create a shared framework of variegated meaning. Aesthetics begin to double as markers of nascent ideology, rumors feed into fictions, and fictions turn into documented history of unknown reliability. The act of lore building becomes a practice in self invention and scene creation.
The portrait today is unencumbered by the roles it served in the past, its previous (sociopolitical, economic and cultural) uses mostly defunct and supplanted by other technologies. In attempting to display a new role that the portrait can take in the present day, perhaps we can view the concept of doxxing as giving new life to the genre. The act of doxxing may become an impromptu form of portraiture, where happenstance images become weighted with their proximity to scandal, a throwaway snapshot at times becoming a revelatory embodiment of a (formerly) anonymous figure. An image that previously would have been considered detritus becomes newly galvanized when attached to an accumulation of online history. With this taken into consideration, Loven excavates specific images, many of which are burdened by accrued meaning, in an attempt to reveal underlying essences through an archaeology of the present. The act of exposure is amplified until genuine appearances concealed under masks of mutable identity are unveiled. These portraits capture the intangible essence of a virtual persona, fixed in time for future audiences to interpret and contextualize in novel ways.
Loven’s painting of Siyuan Zhao, the Miami Art Basel stabber, is an iconic depiction of an incidental mugshot that took on a life of its own after circulating online and going on to become the face of a virtual egregore. In multiple incarnations, Zhao’s face evolved into a notorious symbol for a peculiar variety of online psychosis; the Miya figure, an anonymous collective Twitter account that gained notoriety and traction before being brutally (self-)canceled and disavowed, was a shared identity that embraced disturbing abjection coupled with a ruthless manner of seemingly conceptual trolling.
Relatedly, the briefly ubiquitous Black Dean Kissick meme was an absurd joke riffing on the pervasiveness of Kissick’s role as symbol for the “downtown” cultural scene (1). The image was a crude parody, in some permutations simply a sloppy solarization, in others a more racialized caricature. In Loven’s painted version, the image as shadow figure is emphasized, Kissick appearing as an ethereal Palpatine-like presence, referencing Jung’s alchemical conception of Nigredo, an embrace of the negative self.
According to Jung, “’…the nigredo not only brought decay, suffering, death, and the torments of hell visibly before the eyes of the alchemist, it also cast the shadow of melancholy over his solitary soul. In the blackness of his despair he experienced.. grotesque images which reflect the conflict of opposites into which the researcher’s curiosity had led him. His work began with a katabasis, a journey to the underworld as Dante also experienced it’.” (2)
Other figures in the show include the gallerist Emily Sundblad overlaid with a transcendent message of self-help, the young writer Sierra Armor sporting filtered tears, various figures connected to virtual narratives strewn across the globe, and a large painting of the venture capitalist Peter Thiel as a flirtatious angel. Taken from an offhand photo of what appears to be Thiel’s college days, the lackadaisical smirk the subject wears plays upon his elusive identity and often-rumored influence on reactionary trends in culture.
Within the multitudinous labyrinth of internet lore, online happenings and memetic communication that are constructed through shared communities, “portraits” of these figures have taken on meaning far removed from their original manifestation. Loven’s paintings tap into this accumulation of meaning and contemporary mythologizing, reigniting the relevance of the portrait as a cultural tool that bridges divides between the material and virtual worlds. In a sense, each image can be seen as a shibboleth particular to a specific subculture, or a marker of an imagined “scene.” Given that in the present day a scene may exist only in conceptual spaces, an image can at times become the sole concrete framework upon which a narrative is recognizably hung, as opposed to a specific geographic location, style of dress, genre of music, etc. Whether or not the reference or story residing around each image is known to the viewer depends on their proximity to the imagined, collaborative space from which it derives. For some, the figure of Siyuan Zhao is simply a mugshot of a criminal; for others, it is a symbol of a shared mass psychosis. What is fascinating about these figures is that no matter how obscure or esoteric their reference, an audience of global parameters will have participatory access to these group narratives. Furthermore, it is Loven’s goal to tap into the delusional nature of this type of contemporary creative life; to confront images that possess disturbing meanings, to relish in the absurdity of others and to concretize the beauty in the forsaken nature of them all.
Humiliation Ritual is Loven’s second solo with No Gallery. His first solo, “Hell Is Hot and the World is Cold” can be found here.
(2) Carl Jung, Collected Works, vol.14:93
Sven Loven (b. Stockholm, Sweden) is an American artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. He received his BFA from The Cooper Union for The Advancement of Science and Art. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including solo presentations with No Gallery (New York, USA), Jan Kaps (Cologne, DE) and Christian Andersen (Copenhagen, DK).
No Gallery is an ambiguously commercial gallery space established in 2019, located in the lowest of the Lower East Side, Manhattan. Founded with the intention of curating exhibitions capable of pushing the boundaries of contemporary programming, No presents works dedicated to a nuanced exploration of extant social, personal and cultural paradigms.