Growing up, when she would get upset, Isabel Yellin’s mother gave her “bullshit pillows,” on which she could let out her frustrations. The personal memory and the cathartic release she recently rediscovered in boxing inspire the new figurative punching bag sculptures in Pillowtalk, Isabel’s first U.S. solo exhibition opening at Skibum MacArthur on April 24.

With her easy trill laugh and self-possession, Isabel’s everyday disposition exemplifies her oft-used word “chill,” and she is anything but an angsty, pugilistic person. Her interest in boxing as subject matter rather comes from parallels she sees between the archetypes of the boxer and artist, both dreamers with romantic hubris, engaged in practices involving rigorous training, relying on the support of close-knit communities yet ultimately embarking on solitary pursuits for success in the ring or the gallery space, simultaneously occupying positions of strength and vulnerability.

Human-scaled and anthropomorphic, the punching bag sculptures—leatherette patterns nodding to the human form sewn up and foam-filled—continue Isabel’s exploration of the body through fabric-based objects, which began with loosely-hung, layered fabric juxtapositions and more recently took on three-dimensional structure with the incorporation of corset boning. Freed from the wall hung from above highlighting mass and gravity, the squad of figurinas reverberate with fleshy, corporeal presence, each piece exuding its own individual charisma and sexy wit, and collectively evoking the tension between the human and synthetic.

Indeed, with this new body of work full of tactile physicality and material and emotional complexity, Isabel confronts male-dominated spaces in the boxing gym and the sculptor’s studio. While occupying a space of vulnerability as artworks and female figures to be critiqued and picked apart, the bots are ultimately no mere passive receivers of violence and judgment but subjects with agency, ready to face the world, come what may.

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