Gianna Dispenza: Soft Blots Beneath the Sun
London-based artist Gianna Dispenza found inspiration at the Ladies' Pond in London's Hampstead Heath for her first exhibition with Charles Moffett, Overcome by Joy, in May 2021. For her 2022 presentation on the gallery's Featured platform, Dispenza has created three paintings and four works on paper. The artist's new series, titled Soft Blots Beneath the Sun, focuses on the Men's Pond. While in many ways familiar scenes, they stand alone as a new investigation of London's historic bathing ponds, offering an intimate view of vulnerable male bodies. Complimenting the visual language of Dispenza's body of work, Meara Sharma's prose poem, "The Swimmer and the Swan," creates a narrative that brings the paintings and works on paper to life.
"I’ve spent a lot of time rambling around the heath and the ponds, thinking about the oddity of swimming in a park in a metropolis, thinking about the history of bathers and if or how London’s unusually spirited swimming scene fits in. But what struck me recently about the men’s pond was the bather’s proximity to the swans. These are robust, historically aggressive creatures, gliding between the bobbing heads of half-naked shivering men. The swimmers suddenly appeared so vulnerable, both from above and below. Vulnerable to the swans and birds diving or sailing around at eye level and to the pond’s murky underworld. Who knows what else swims in those waters. Both the swimmers and the swans seem to maintain a sense of alertness, of caution, and as a result, of mutual respect. I think this tension preserves some symmetry between the environment and the swimmers. It’s subtle, but it's also rare these days, especially in a city. To me, there’s something beautiful, hopeful even, in such self-imposed vulnerability.” - Gianna Dispenza
The Swimmer and the Swan
By Meara Sharma
She saw him through the bulrushes, he who she had seen before, with his strange, soft arms, pulling the water, or perhaps he was a different one, there were so many of them, another downy head bursting forth and vanishing, a bud washed clean by the rain, opening and closing like a sped-up day, making flares of white foam, and a cry that was both playful and angry, that seemed to claim everything. He teased her like a spray of red berries. She answered his call with a song only she could hear, though its echo touched him, and when he felt it he stopped and let his legs descend. Against the sun he became a quivering circle, ringed by light. This she understood as an invitation.
She glided toward him, a clot of silk through humid air, surprised by her own noiselessness, by the simplicity of her movements in relation to his rangy limbs. Her insides fizzed with contradictions. He looked at her with the carelessness of a cygnet, and her nerves turned to thorns, dry and twisting. His vulnerability was an insult. She recoiled at her overelaborate proportions. She was afraid of this fragile thing, this placeless creature that had rendered her an interloper, and from that fear rose a hunger more bright and desperate than any she had ever known.
She folded into herself and dipped below the surface, into the cool quiet, and there she found she was surrounded—a throng of wild, dancing legs—they were everywhere, raging and proliferating. This was enough to restore her resolve. She sprang up and flung herself open, lunging toward him, a bolt of orange night, a white rush fed by lightning. And the reeds screamed. The sky expelled its plumage. The pond quaked with bewilderment. She sang a silent song for a long time, on and on, longer than she could measure, until everything stilled, and she was alone, a soft blot beneath the sun, floating in the blue-green sphere she knew so well.
She looked down and saw herself in the water. Her long white neck, graceful as a question. She saw the steadfastness of her body. Her wings, sewn from the clouds. She saw that which had written her into being. She was a wielder of thunder. She was a guardian of interstices. She was rimmed by divine protection. She saw herself in the ancient pools of the miocene. She was the reflection of light on water. She was immutable. Slowly she drank the pure air and it sated her. Something was whistling through the lilies—her own voice. They could hear it, those shriveled limbs on the shore. They knew their place now. They understood she would outlast them.
Gianna Dispenza (b. 1990 Washington State, USA) graduated from the San Francisco Art institute in 2014 with a BFA in sculpture and gained an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in 2020. Her works have been shown across the USA, UK, Italy, France, South Korea, and Lebanon and among institutions such as the Victoria and Albert Museum. She currently lives and works in London.
Meara Sharma is a writer and artist. She works with a range of materials and forms, including sound, film, sculpture, and performance. Her practice is often concerned with ecology, desire, and the seams between matter and dreams, remembrance and forgetting. Her work has appeared in Ambit, Guernica, Frieze, Vice, the New York Times, and elsewhere. Raised in Massachusetts, she currently lives in London.