Miles Greenberg’s medium is human limbs; his canvas is gravity. A mentee of Marina Abramovič, the 25-year-old artist is known for his large-scale, site-specific pieces that revolve around the human body, turning physicality into a kind of surrealist sculpture. There’s a poetry to the ways he uses the human body — sometimes to the extreme — to capture greater truths about humanity, such as in LEPIDOPTEROPHOBIA, where he closed himself in a Perspex box filled with flying insects.
Greenberg has been generating buzz since he started his career as an artist at age 17; most recently, he was on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. In the last few years it’s felt like the appetite for surprising work like Greenberg’s as only gotten more voracious, but he sees the human body as a universal medium.
“I don’t think the interest in the human body in art ever really changes,” Greenberg tells NYLON over email. “Whether it’s Bernini or Burden or Athey or Abramović or Young Boy Dancing Group, bodies don’t really go out of style.”
Now, in a new exhibition Embrace the World from Within at Farschou New York, Greenberg explores the bounds and beauty of human intimacy in a new way, with his latest performance piece “The Embrace.”
In the dimly lit gallery space at Farschou in Brooklyn on opening night in late March, two performers, blinded by all-white contacts, sit on a rock in a glass cube, while a hundred or so guests — eating oysters and white asparagus and drinking pet nat — observe. Over the course of six hours, the performers move. They lay on each other, they shift positions, they make room for each other on the rock — two bodies sharing space on a rock submerged in about a foot of fresh lake water at their feet. Every so often, a toe touches the water; the surface tension breaks.
Greenberg conceived of the idea for “The Embrace” while living in Copenhagen mid-pandemic. He was newly single and says he was contemplating “anonymity and intimacy” when he got the idea for two people who’ve never met to encounter each other for the first time using only touch.
“It was about distilling the idea of intimacy down to its simplest form using human bodies,” Greenberg explains. “I was wondering what it would look like to put that perpetual first touch of two unknown bodies on display for an audience, as though under a vitrine in a museum.”
The performance takes place over six hours. It’s easy to make the focus of Greenberg’s work about pushing the body to its physical limits, but to talk just about how sore someone’s arm must be is a distraction from the depth of the work. Everyone from professional athletes to touring musicians to bartenders regularly push themselves to physical limitations, and it’s rarely something we comment on — but in art, it feels like it’s the story itself.
“I get annoyed when people fixate on how painful or hard my performances are. There’s so much more to talk about in my work from a critical, poetical or technical standpoint,” Greenberg says. “Sure, performing upwards of six hours isn’t easy, but it’s not that shocking. I just find people will often just default to this lazy, shallow takeaway of auto-subjugation or self-flagellation that I find really undermines me as an artist.”
After actually watching “The Embrace,” it’s hard to imagine taking anything away from it other than comfort. Watching two people who can’t see each other or anyone around them sharing space makes you think about community, about mutual aid, about the ways in which we have to make room for each other. It was mesmerizing — not because it seemed hard, but because it seemed natural.
And for “The Embrace,” what compels the movement isn’t shock and awe, but the opposite: It’s “comfort,” says Greenberg. “Any movement in the piece is just out of necessity.”
“The Embrace” is paired with solo exhibitions by Yoko Ono and Louise Bourgeois. Ono’s piece takes us to a gorgeous, macabre garden of 100 light-wooden caskets with live trees planted inside that takes up an entire room. “We’re All Water,” on the other hand, is a display of glass bottles of water emblazoned with the names of prominent figures, including everyone from Vincent Van Gogh to Brad Pitt to Richard Nixon. Bourgeois’ work includes a series of sculptures including Fée Couturière (Fairy Seamstress), which resembles a hanging bird’s nest with gaps and passages; Bourgeois has said that for her the work is a self-portrait, representing one’s various interior states.
Embrace the World From Within is at Faurschou New York City through September 17, 2023. The Embrace will be live every Saturday during the entirety of the show opening.