Thursday, October 15, 2015

Unfolding Matter: An Exhibition at Hubbard Street Lofts

Landscape is both a physical space and an aesthetic construction. It is the land that surrounds us and upon which we live, and it is the organization of that exterior space within a genre of the visual arts. Any artist whose practice connects with land, earth, or terrain, is dealing from the beginning with that twin focus, looking both outwards to the world and then back into the interior world. The land outside, and the land within. In this group show at a recently opened space at Chicago’s Hubbard Street Lofts, three artists showed work inspired by the land beneath our feet, the inner reflection of the outer world, and the land seen from afar.
Marzena Ziejka, A small landscape without vegetables, found dropcloth, monofilament, acrylic polymer
Marzena Ziejka‘s work includes pieces that she made by scooping up soil and glueing it to large panels. They have an interesting tactility reminiscent of her large works in fibre, her customary medium, though I think they lack the visual charge and sensuousness of those pieces. Much more successful were very small works like A Small Landscape without Vegetables, for which she took a found piece of drop cloth and made rough, improvised marks with acrylic polymer and monofilament. They contain references to traditional elements of landscape painting—a horizon line, radiating furrows of a ploughed field, a cloud, a sun—but in the barest, most minimal way. Nevertheless the rough texture of the cloth and the spontaneous smears of colour attract the eye more than the larger soil pieces.

Tanya Gill, Pangaea (The World is Flat), found landsat images
Tanya Gill uses images taken by the Landsat satellite, which was launched in the early 1970s and took the first comprehensive pictures of the earth’s surface from space. A plain mounting of these photos would be compelling enough, filled as they are with amazing variations of shape, forms, and colours, but Gill took her appropriation in another direction by folding the photos into three-dimensional shapes and displaying them as semi-sculptural assemblages. In Pangaea (The World is Flat), she appears to have squashed a bunch of these gem-like creations before dispersing them on the wall. Pangaea is, I believe, the name geographers use for the primordial landmass which united all earth’s continents. Gill thus uses some of the most modern images of the earth to hearken back to the origins of the planet, implying perhaps that any artistic transformation is actually a recreation of ancient materials.
Gundjan Chawla, Echo, turmeric on paper
This leads us to Gunjan Chawla’s work, which is inspired by the ancient philosophies of her home country, India. Chawla uses turmeric and earth mixed with water to make rows of dabbed marks, on either paper or duralar, patiently covering the surface dot by dot, allowing the pigment to fall off the paper or adhere at random. The technique is reminiscent of such Asian art forms as Tibetan sand painting, Malaysian Kolam, or Indian Rangoli painting, with their emphasis on impermanence, the fleeting, the temporary. Chawla’s paintings, if they can be called that, are clearly preoccupied with process, with a meditative rhythm of the hand and submission to the material, and as such they are very self-contained and distant, as if they are looking so far towards the interior of the soul that they no longer require a spectator. Yet the varied colours of the pigment and spice, from burnt umber through to bright saffron, produce visual vibrations that are in the end compellingly beautiful, too.

Unfolding Matter was on display at Hubbard Street Lofts between October 2nd and October 14th, 2015.

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