The Rose, an exhibition of the work of forty-four artists at the Lumber Room, uses its namesake as a referent across tesselating artworks. The collage-centered exhibition ascends from the ground floor entryway, spirals up a stairwell into the main gallery space and fills a series of central walls that echo the folds of petals. Each artwork finds some organic association with the notion of The Rose, while also forging portals of meaning that intersect with and diverge from one another. In Curator Justine Kurland’s words, the exhibition “proposes a circular genealogy of collage.”
A seasoned photographer who took up collage during the pandemic, Kurland developed The Rose in close partnership with Lumber Room Director Libby Werbel and Founder Sarah Miller Meigs, bringing together a range of collage-based works from the 1960s through the present. The sheer scope of works included in The Rose acknowledges a wide range of practices and affiliations, unsettling coherence by drawing attention to acts of assemblage.
Joiri Minaya’s work #dominicanwomengooglesearch (2016) greets visitors in the entryway. Body parts of women of varying skin tones and hair textures are printed on PVC board and suspended with sheer wire from the entryway ceiling to create a diffuse, floating collage. Like leaves, they twist with the slightest airflow to reveal tropical plant prints as their backings. Each body part has been cut into form along the sharp edges of low-resolution pixelation. This work sets the tone of The Rose from the start, pointing to the puzzling nature of representation and construction of identity that becomes apparent when zooming in. Minaya’s deconstruction and amalgamation reclaims nuance through a collagist approach to collectivity.
Along the stairway to the main floor, hang collages of magazine and photo cutouts by K8 Hardy (2011, 2015), dripping with queer, feminist, punk aesthetic a la riot grrrl. These works beckon with playful sensuality and rawness: someone holds a telephone up to their ass, licks their foot, sticks a curling brush in their vagina. Hues of gray, pink and blue abound.
On the first floor, Wangechi Mutu’s All Rosey (2003) calls from a far wall with a strange expression. This collage of a humanoid figure has sad blue eyes, large red lips, roses for breasts, and helicopter pigtails. The left hand is missing, exploded, in a splatter of paint; the right, a rigid and pale appendage, has been spliced onto the body. All Rosey sparkles and swirls from brown to pink across different body parts, conjuring at once a racialized fiction and also a character of imagination and fantasy.
Around the corner, Rachelle Mozman-Solano’s work speaks to schisms in time and place. Its title reads, “I am not going to tell you that (Mexicans) are the best people on the face of the earth, or that they will have made wonderful citizens…’ Testimony in House Committee on Immigration, 1928 from Venas Abiertas (2022). Mozman-Solano created this work with her friend, Marissa Herman, who is pictured in two states of dress against a blue background. On the right, one figure wears a black dress and a brown paper mane around her face, backed by large cacti. On the left, the other figure crouches nude in the pose of an Aztec birthing sculpture, holding a photo of a skull over their genitals and with family photos superimposed over their chest. Photos of sand overlap at odd angles in the background, a framing that gestures to fraught delineation of borders. Fissure becomes part and parcel to the pastiche, an impetus to consider influences present at subterranean, effervescent, and psychic levels—those which nourish roots and carry seed.
Near the center of the space, Keisha Scarville’s Passports, tells a reciprocal tale about human-made borders. In a glass encasement numerous copies of her father’s passport photo—which was taken for his immigration from Guyana in 1967—appear with varying modifications by Scarville. Some of these passport photo collages are dramatic or flamboyant, featuring a sparkling afro, a white face, a black veil, etc.
In public discussion with Kurland—an event at the Lumber Room offered in conjunction with The Rose—Scarville contextualized her work as concerned with the “insidiousness of neutrality.” She referred to the passport photograph as a flattening device, a means of reducing the self or shape-shifting in order to move across a border towards citizenship. In response, her collages serve to refuse the passport photo’s mirage of fixity. The iterations of her father present like multifaceted characters on magical gaming cards, each revealing a different persona and special skill.
The Rose finds poignancy, in particular, through presentation of these works and others from the early 2000s onward, which touch into many different ancestries, cultures, traditions, and racialized experiences. However, its thorn, so to speak, is a framing that neglects the breadth of gender diversity.
The exhibition includes works by art historical titans such as Hannah Wilke and Mary Beth Edelson. Wilke’s Kneaded Eraser (Walt Whitman) (1975) shows her famous gray vulva sculptures adhered all over a postcard of Whitman Park. Edelson’s Flowering: Spiritual Transformation (1972) includes handwritten text that reads, “the primordial mysteries of the feminine.” These and other earlier feminist artists in the exhibition have carved a pathway to this contemporary moment for many femmes.
Unfortunately, in conjunction with the presentation of these works, curatorial text intertwines gender with genitals in an outmoded framing, stating, “The work on view touches the figure of The Rose at oblique angles. In reference to a vaginal form, it’s a muscular art full of nerve endings and teeth—a cipher of female desire, pleasure, and rage.” Unsurprisingly, the majority of The Rose is constituted of works by cisgendered women, save for noteworthy contributions by several nonbinary artists including Lau Wai, Baseera Khan and B. Ingrid Olson.
If one operates by the claims of The Rose—that “kinship is forged through association”—then, without a more robust swath of trans and gender-nonconforming artists, critical opportunities for kinship get lost at this intersection. The exhibition’s strengths and this misgiving prompt an interrogation of what is top of mind and what is obscured. Between its lines, The Rose seems to ask, how do we tread the junctures of presence and absence with care?
Lumber Room is located at 419 NW 9th Ave, Portland. The gallery is open between 12-6 pm on Friday and Saturday and by appointment Monday – Thursday. The Rose is on view through October 28th.