The title of Michael Bilsborough’s show at Invisible-Exports, “Austerity Measures,” refers to the conservative prescription for our current economic woes, dictating that ordinary people must make do with fewer government programs and services. In his previous drawings, the artist had been more intemperately focused on debauchery, portraying impeccably organized orgies in bizarre institutional settings: a swirling democracy of small human beings, in which tiny naked women writhed across public restroom floors while equally miniscule men formed daisy chains in gyms filled with benches and barbells.
Bilsborough has now turned to small studies of empty cubic structures on transparent paper, using rulers and T squares, as if he were trying to achieve the obsessive perspective of a Minimalist Piranesi. A bit of human flesh remains in Pipe Dream, a study of a pair of male nudes impaled on a protruding beam like a kebab. Chance to Cure features another rigid construction, adorned with drops of blood, while skulls festoon the framework depicted in Personhood Waiver.
In all three of these drawings, the presence of the blue- and red-colored pencil lines suggests cold death and vivid gore. The entire show is pervaded by an atmosphere of sadomasochism, as if Bilsborough were rendering instruments of torture, or conjuring cages and prison cells. Supplanting any notion of freewheeling satisfaction with looming threats of punishment, Bilsborough subjects his work to a kind of aesthetic deprivation, sacrificing sensuality to concentrate on the bare bones.—Elisabeth Kley