I was initially interested in the title “Soluble” for this months show at Nationale. Now, the title seems like a superficial attempt to unify the four artists that are featured. However, soluble, as an adjective, brings to mind process, change, dissolution, and for me in the context of a group show, the potential for an examination of the identity of each individual artist when faced with exhibiting in a group environment. The unity of this show derives from the use of textiles while some of the concepts presented seemed to struggle against one another rather than melding or even participating in the same conversation. The resulting exhibition, while presenting a few strong pieces, as a whole left me with unanswerable questions about the solubility of the ideas of these four artists.
While much of the work stems from an interest in human interaction and relationships, the pieces themselves formally draw from post-minimalist interests, the exception being the work of Elizabeth Jaeger. The show is cohesive in its use of mostly light and dark fabrics and more or less subtle sentimentality. According to the press release the artists were, “inspired by the comfort, minimalism, and nurturing aspects of the materials used in this exhibit.”
I found the grid of black fabric knots by Melissa Gorman particularly engaging on a visual and conceptual level. Their subtle gradation in size and geometric arrangement forces a formal engagement with the piece while the title “Hold Tight” intentionally undermines the gravity of the formal characteristics introducing elements of narrative and purposeful quaintness. This piece takes the visual simplicity of minimalist objects and inverts its values of objectivity and purity of form with semantic twist (or should I say knot).
Additionally, Midori Hirose’s piece counterposes geometric and tactile elements that bring to mind obvious associations with the cube based sculptures of Eva Hesse, among others, that functioned to undermine the purely intellectual and formal aims of minimalist sculpture. Hirose’s work, however, lacks the meaningfully abrasive elements of Hesse’s work in favor of a more decorative presence. Hirose’s piece also has a narrative element, according to the artist it is meant to be “an homage to European and Asian lion guard statues found in gardens and at gate entrances.”
In Genevieve Dellinger’s piece I like the idea of making text three dimensional and tangible. For me, however, the words fell flat in relation to the other elements in the show.
The work of Elizabeth Jaeger stands out in the show, not only because it takes up the most space, but because it deals with different formal and conceptual themes. Jaeger’s work is much more narrative than the other pieces. Her larger than life nude male sculpture dominates the room in a benevolent manner. I am in no way a formal purist but I did, despite my attraction to Jaeger’s work, find it ultimately distracting and confusing when sharing space with the other work in this show. I preferred her work in its more modest and straightforward presentation at Car Hole gallery without the additional props that were used at Nationale.
When I read the press release for the show I was excited about the potential of an all-female textile based show. For me, it is difficult to separate textile art from its radical feminist past and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to. Although the show may be inadvertently all female and avoids overt political messages it still calls to mind projects such as Woman House. Undeniably, this show addresses what are traditionally considered feminine themes with the use of textiles and interest in comfort and nurturing. I understand the hesitation to label work with all of the pigeon-holing and dismissal that can entail as well as the limiting nature of gender assignment but it seems like a vital task to me somehow now that the only time I hear the term feminism is in relation to the rising unabashedly and dangerously socially conservative Tea Party “fillies.” But, digressions aside, all of this work draws on, or is an extension of themes that were raised by feminist artists from the late sixties up to today; the interest in formal elements in combination with an exploration of social roles and human interaction and experience.
In an interview in Modern Painters back in February of 2008 Julia Bryan-Wilson conducted a conversation with four female artists who all incorporate elements of craft and textiles into their work. In the interview artist Allison Smith made the assertion that , “Craft is considered to be at odds with the intellectual labor that has fed conceptual and politically motivated art. So bringing back the activist spirit to something interactive and bodily is important.” This is relevant to Soluble, especially the work of Midori Hirose and Melissa Gorman, because they incorporate craft and conceptual themes in a way that challenges not only the inherent hierarchical nature of minimalist art but also the problematic claims of authenticity in purely craft oriented work.
Soluble closes next week on November 7th.
Originally published in October of 2010 at Ultrapdx.com. Direct URL: http://www.ultrapdx.com/zero/2010/10/30/review-soluble/