Commonwealth and Council

The Flood, The Vessel, The Commune—how do we find each other?

Julie Tolentino


In their third exhibition at Commonwealth and Council, The Flood, The Vessel, The Commune—how do we find each other?  Julie Tolentino abandons subjecthood, prowling the margins, fugitive as ever. Clumps of cultivated crystals hover in suspension throughout the exhibition space. The mineralized structures have grown in irregular, self-organized snarls from strands of hair gifted by the artist’s immediate community.

Crystal formations accumulate not as strata but as symbionts, strands of hair breaking through the surface even as they coalesce around their flexible spines. The dense clusters dip in and out of steel drums plied by a mechanized hoist, offering a primordial ritual of acquiescence and refusal—salt in the wound. The movements are driven by an (unseen) group durational performance entitled On Touch/The Pressure (2016, 2023). In the live four-hour work, ten interdisciplinary artists, including Tolentino, lay in a heap on the floor, sliding, pushing, and weighing upon the other, creating energetic structures that intimate support, pleasure, tension, and excess.

For The Flood, The Vessel, The Commune—how do we find each other?, Tolentino mines this collective and embodied memory by moving to its score of irresolute rhythms: shifting, crushing, hanging on, pushing back, and yielding. Both the hidden work and the crystal amalgamates perform the dirty work of trust. Fueled by movement, they rise and fall to the heaving of bodies-in-relation and all of their attendant frictions and pleasures. Feeling for grit in the oyster, the trib and the frot. This rhythm and pause cannot be reduced to the binary of up-and-down or on-and-off, but rather articulates the liveness of analog—continuums of drips and clicks, alternating and converging at ungraspable intervals where desire lies in the space between breaths or the moment of collision. The crystals emit a startling "click," activated by a slurry of sloughed cells indexing a quiet death rattle that carries the past darkly into the present.

Over the weeks of the exhibition, the growths are nurtured through courses of salt, mineral, and gem essence baths. The myriad refuse of individual bodies aggregates into a post-body, reanimated, palpitating in a noisy and needy communality. This living archive of abjection—as empowering as it is repellent—makes a kind of map in which overlapping histories dissolve into congruous particles. Tolentino has modeled a heteronomous system that strings together the remains of sliced-off time in an irregular sonorous network: nothing short of a community-to-come that is held within our own material decomposition.

Tolentino pierces the gallery wall with a circulatory system of infused medicinal wines flowing through weighty pendulous reservoirs. They offer a watering hole for the debilitated (Who among us is not?). With each release of fluids, the visitor is invited to sip from a porous ceramic followed by a “crush”—breaking the vessel as a gesture of willful extravagance, fury, release. The shards will be repurposed, like The Pressure’s performance score, into a future collective composition. This push back at death motions a syncopated rise and fall, arbitrated by a mechanical pulse.

The starkness in The Flood, The Vessel, The Commune—how do we find each other?  is beckoned to uplift the ongoing, and linked, intergenerational resistance(s) to occupation, pandemics, genocides, racialized, gendered, age and class-based isolation and violences, and to all forms of territorialism.

“they try they tire they flee they fight they bleed they break they moan they mourn they weep they die they do they do they do”  

—Lucille Clifton, “Reply,” 1991

Julie Tolentino (b. 1964, San Francisco; lives and works in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree) received an MFA from University of California, Riverside (2020). Tolentino is permanent faculty at California Institute of the Arts. Tolentino led queer club spaces such as Clit Club, Tattooed Love Child, and Dagger and was a member of ACT UP New York, Art Positive, and House of Color collectives. Exhibitions and performances have been held at Commonwealth and Council (2024, 2019, 2013); Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2022); Aspen Art Museum (2020); Leslie Lohman Museum of Art, New York (2020); Performance Space New York (2019); Participant Inc, New York (2019, 2005); The Kitchen, New York (2019, 2001); EFA Project Space, New York (2019); 6th Annual Thessaloniki Biennale (2018); The Lab, San Francisco (2018); and New Museum, New York (2013), Performa, New York (2013, 2005). Tolentino is a recipient of Joyce Foundation Award (2023), Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts Grant (2022), Anonymous Was a Woman Award (2021), Queer|Art|Prize for Sustained Achievement (2020), Foundation for Contemporary Arts Performance Award (2019), Fulcrum Arts Artist Honor (2019), Pieter Performance Dancemakers Grant (2018), Art Matters Foundation Award (2015, 2010), and CHIME Mentorship Award with J. Kidd (2012) and Doran George (2010). Tolentino has participated in residencies at Herb Alpert/Ucross (2021); MacDowell (2020); BOFFO, Fire Island (2018); Hope Mohr Bridge Project Community Engagement (2017-18); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2013-14); and PACT Zollverein, Essen (2012).