Less and More

Blair Saxon-Hill, "What that Entails and What Comes After"

There is
too much, and now
there will be less.
Which is more.

I am thinking of Kristan Kennedy’s large work in the exhibition Interior Margins at the Lumber Room. If curator Stephanie Snyder, as her statement suggests, gathered this work from these Northwest women artists with the idea that the body, its presence or absence in the work, was a concern these works share, I’d argue that there’s something else going on here, something that these works share with those that more regularly hang in this private art space above Elizabeth Leach Gallery owned by collector Sarah Miller Miegs. The ghost of Agnes Martin floats above this work. As do the spirits of Jo Baer,  Sol Lewitt, Donald Judd.

Go to the Lumber Room today (it closes January 30). When you see Kennedy’s “N.T.N.L.M.R.R.D.R.P,” you will laugh to think that I make this argument. It is a big, muscular, gritty thing. This is a quality it shares with the Blair Saxon-Hill with which it’s having either a stare down or a sympathetic nod at across the room. Oh, there’s a figure there in Kennedy’s work, as she will tell you, but it’s been excised by a great curving swath of black ink. For a nihilistic gesture, it and its fellow redactions on this unstretched linen nailed to the wall with big dark nails are surprisingly integrated into the work, the ink becoming one with the linen. It draws from a series Kennedy has done, painting out sections of tabloids, negating, erasing, or perhaps opening up. The delicious ground of this and even more so, Kennedy’s work “E.G.S.O.E.Y.S.” in the back room appear to be not pristine, made-for-art canvases, but grounds that have been in the world, been dragged, splattered, crumpled, stained…and lived to see the walls of this exquisite space.

But whatever has been added to the work, the looming presence is that which has been taken away, and I think of this as a kind of talisman hanging over Interior Margins, the protector that makes explicit that which most of the other works in this show elegantly embrace and that which connects this exhibition to works in the Miller Miegs collection. There is a sense of great presence in the absence of, of sufficiency in the enoughness of one great move and no more, or one great move made many times. I am thinking, in the latter sense, of the massive series of black ink on black drawings, “Surfacing,” by Heather Watkins that I think of as great stones. Their power may lie in their simplicity: the artist collaborated with gravity as she has done so well before to allow and cajole the ink to wind it’s intersecting paths into a closed if lightly veined form. The fact that this series was hung wrapping around two corners is brilliant, breaking up the power of the piece to allow it to play well with the other works in the room.

And I am thinking of the extraordinarly beautiful series by Linda Hutchins which appears to be sections of twisting rope in the finest long black ink strokes. In fact, Hutchins has again and again extended repeated the gesture of drawing a thin black line out from her center across the page, allowing the line to curve only as the natural path of the hand curves. What I find fascinating about this is that it recognizes that any mark is made as the gesture of a hand at the end of an arm…what if all expressiveness, it asks, was removed from that gesture, what if one simply recorded the gesture? And again, and again.

Leonie Guyer, whose wall paintings (singular, ambiguous iconlike forms) become one with the space as Kennedy’s inky figures join their ground, spoke of her almost invisible painting in the rear gallery. She expressed a concern that one who had commissioned a painting like that might say, “That’s it?!” And of having the courage, essentially, to say, (and I’m putting words in her mouth) Yes, that’s it, that’s enough. Moreover that’s exactly what it needs to be and no more. Lynne Woods Turner talked about why she focused on the pale, small, geometric forms that her drawings take. She noted that moves beyond the strictly geometric felt too assertive, too expressive.

Let me go back to Saxon-Hill’s “What that Entails, and What Comes After,” a concrete-soaked and ash-dusted length of burlap draped on a white plinth that leans against the wall. As such it’s a great summary of an artist’s negotiations between painting and sculpture as well as the presentation of works. In a way it’s the history of art embodied in two married objects: the movement of painting from the wall to the stretched and framed canvas to unframed, the unstretched, the wall again (or the floor) with the parallel throughline of the history of sculpture as it approaches, intersects, dances around that of painting. This piece finds a productively ambiguous in-between that’s so rich. And it’s just plain gorgeous, the texture of the speckled surface of the draped canvas contrasting with the clean white lines of the plinth.

Victoria Haven’s “Oracle” series of crisp, bright photos of the geometries nail-and-rubber-band wall sculptures also negotiates between image and object in a productive way, reflecting on the power of the document of the thing. There is a sense I’m guessing the artist shares here that the document of the thing in this case is more than.  And as such it stands in for the way, not only in a global contemporary art world, not only in a digitally archived world, but in the day-to-day point-and-shootness of living, that the document of the thing comes not to represent but to stand in for the thing itself. The dailiness of abstraction is something we don’t often consider.

Nor do we consider the commonalities between abstraction and play. That play is a way of dealing in the abstract with the real. It’s hard not to read the two plastic-y paint blobs at eye level on Kennedy’s “E.G.S.O.E.Y.S.” as playful in the more grave context of the ground, not to mention the works around it. It’s a gesture that the neighboring works by Turner would never admit, for example. Midori Hirosi’s “SQFT” and “SQFT II” embrace or should I say suggest play within the Perspex container of an outlined cube as she’s filled with carnival midway-esque colored sands. These works give the Lewitt open cube that has previously sat in the same location, a winking nudge in the ribs. A lot of play is based on I Wonder What Would Happen. Take that and run it through a rigorous filter of intellect and feeling and good old fashioned technical prowess and the work that’s turned out tends to hit the ball out of the park. Play ball!

To return to the absence of the works that one has seen in the past in this space, Martin in particular talks about silence, and space, and the need we all have for more of it.

I spent a long time a while back, thinking about the why’s and wherefore’s of removal, erasure, excision as a tactic in art and writing. At the Lumber Room a week ago, Guyer, whose approach to making is nothing short of magic (she talks of dowsing for the right locations for her wall paintings), mentioned that we Westerners got the Buddhist void all wrong in translating it as “emptiness” or “nothingness.” In fact, Guyer said with her two hands cupped as a bowl, it is this way, an emptiness full of possibility. A generative emptiness, I said.

To me, at the end of the day (or the end of this exhibition’s run), Interior Margins isn’t about the gender of the makers. Yes, there are works here that I would be hard pressed to imagine made by a male artist. And to see this much woman talent in this space is very exciting. To me, it’s about the productive void of abstraction. That which is taken away. That which is enough. That which in its simplicity is a gateway to Everything.


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