Zeit Contemporary Art is pleased to present How Bats Drink Water, an online exhibition of works by Vincent Tiley curated by Evan Garza, on view from April 10th to June 22nd.

How Bats Drink Water is the first exhibition to focus on Tiley’s Rope Paintings, a group of works executed between 2016 and 2019 that are firmly tied to ideas of the body, its absence, and the material elements of sexuality. In these works, Tiley evokes the body without relying on figuration or narrative while referencing particular modernist touchstones like abstract expressionism, minimalism and geometric abstraction. As the artist explains, “the body is a point of almost total potential. The potential to expand outward connecting and touching a world of other bodies around it, and also a space to be entered. The body is a vortex of forces being swallowed up and expelled out.” By using knots and binding methods of Shibari, a form of erotic bondage with origins in 18th- and 19th-century Japan, Vincent Tiley forcibly ties these works to notions of exquisite control and performed eroticism.

The incorporation of Shibari carries with it not only a sexual context but also serves to frame the work as inherently queer—and powerful. Used in some corners of queer fetish culture and depicted in Japanese gay BDSM manga, Shibari is a sexualization of control, power, and submission. The use of rope and jute in the paintings mimics the aesthetic arrangement and positioning of knots in Shibari, with junctions of tied rope meant to emphasize characteristics like sensuality, vulnerability, and strength. As with their use in fetish and bondage play, the rope bindings in these paintings create intense power dynamics: group play, dominant and passive forces, submission, and notions of tops and bottoms—a binary also inherent to garments.

The choice of fabrics and the manner in which they’re treated—from high-shine organza to black silk satin chiffon and denim—emphasize a kind of material sexuality. Few materials are as synonymous with eroticism as leather and latex, and each feature repeatedly in the paintings. In I Promise You’ve Got Nothin’ to Worry About (2018), a pink patent leather midriff top is suspended above a Lurex velvet bottom that shimmers like lube and glitter. Teen (2018), a torso-sized painting of tempera on light wash denim, conjures the casual eroticism of torn jeans and six-pack abs like a teen model for Abercrombie & Fitch. Its rope knots more closely resemble friendship bracelets than physical restraints. However, the collection of works as a whole feel like paintings Rick Owens would own: dark, innovative, sexy, and brooding.

There are subtle nods to sexual subcultures and kink institutions throughout the works. Club Orpheus (2017), a tempera on neoprene painting with rope and hardware, is named for a Baltimore goth and fetish night club. Drummer (2017), a high-shine silk organza work coated in semen-colored acrylic gel and bound in sleek lines of Shibari knotting, shares its name with the famed porn mag that explored gay leather subculture from the 1970s to the late nineties. In keeping with the exhibition’s examination of the material sexuality of fabrics, these and other titles in the exhibition function almost like hanky code: if you know what to look for, a series of intimate discoveries may present themselves.

Like queer culture and fetish scenes, much is implied here and much is left unsaid. While the body plays a significant role in its relationship to these materials, particularly in the origin of the sexuality so many of these works exude, representations of the body are entirely absent. There is a ghost-like quality in the explicit absence of the body in these works—yet it feels omnipresent. What remains is a body of work that underscores the material evidence of action and absence, performance and restraint.

Vincent Tiley (b. 1987) received a MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art. His work has been exhibited widely across the country and internationally, including the Museum of Art and Design, the Leslie-Lohman Museum, AxeNeo7, CFHILL, and the International Museum of Surgical Science. In 2017, he participated in the Fire Island Artist Residency (FIAR) and was a 2013 participant at Artist Cooperative Residency and Exhibition (ACRE) program. Tiley’s work has been featured and reviewed in Art in America, The Chicago Tribune, Performa, and The New York Times. His works have been collected by the Whitney Library, the Leather Archives and Museum, Yale University Library, and the Watson Library at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. How Bats Drink Water is Tiley’s first exhibition with Zeit Contemporary Art, which represents the artist since 2018.