Rhonda Tuholski

Broken bodies on the brink of death, if not beyond it: life-sized, visceral, and cast in iron, imprisoned in steel and glass, set among cast of gynecological restraints. These are the subjects of Lionel Maunz’s fifth show “In the Sewer of Your Body” at Bureau in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His sculptures are accompanied by equally grotesque graphite drawings of spilled innards and self-inflicted castration wounds. Maunz’s work vigorously examines the nature of suffering by engaging theological and philosophical systems which equate it with depravity.

In the sculpture after which the exhibition is named, a cast-iron body, wounded, grasping, blown open, sits like a specimen in a steel-and-glass case. In the next room, three steel slabs hold the remains of another cast-iron body, child sized, and laid in a position typical of the many representations of dead Christ. The body is flanked by what is identified as “gynecological restraints” on one side and a decaying polyhedron alongside a schematic of Josef Fritzl’s prison for his daughter and their children on the other. Nearby, a steel prison holds the form of a slumping and decaying body.

A third sculpture called “Cradle of Sperm” sits in the corner, a system of restraints loosely resembling a chair. According to Maunz, he is alluding to antinatalism: a philosophical argument which states that because of the agonies associated with being a conscious being in this world, it would be better not to be born at all. What presents first as a grotesque grappling with shock also has the effect of eliciting deep empathy. Entrails spilled, like glistening earthworms, from the familiar-yet-foreign shapes of bodies which have been the site of significant physical violence, skin splayed, muscle and bone exposed. The horror of all this is magnified by the formidable physical presence and literal weight of cast iron. What could cause such injury? These casted forms allude to a physical presence, existing elsewhere: the original.

Lionel Maunz
Cast iron, steel
94 × 51.25 × 71.5 inches

While the mind can imagine the in-studio casting process, it can just as easily venture out into the dark: battlefields, landmines, accidents, disaster, suffering. It is this suffering, and the systems of belief which take it seriously, that Maunz engages. Three of the seven works included in the exhibition, with the titles “Irresistible Grace,” “Limited Atonement,” and “Unconditional Election,” directly reference the tenets of Calvinism. Maunz confronts these beliefs and reimagines them in terms of manipulation and imprisonment. The viewer may be inspired to empathize with these decomposing forms, and yet the titles allude to
a closed system of belief in which mercy is a fixed object that cannot be moved through any amount of pleading.

These bodies broken beyond repair and nearly beyond recognition have
a physical presence which elicits shock, empathy, and despair. This response, rooted in compassion, directly contradicts both Calvinist and Antinatalist ideas about the total depravity of humanity and makes this exhibition horrifically and grotesquely thoughtful.