10 november – 07 december 2014
curated by john ros
Many of us spend countless hours in search of home. Beyond shelter, home implies so much more. Home is comfort. It is security. Home is family, friends, community. It extends beyond the physical boundaries of our inhabited spaces and travels with us as we move throughout our lives. Home is an orb of energy. It is spirit, love, honesty. It encapsulates our workspaces, our living spaces, and every space in-between. Searching for home can be a life-long task. Some of us are fortunate enough to find it early, others spend endless hours in search of it, and yet others are left no choice but to give up looking for it. This exhibit is a peek into the search for home. Generated from countless hours in the studio, artists create worlds within a world — constantly operating on the boundaries between creativity and life. Some find balance between the two, others find one overtaking the other. There is no right way to operate, as the importance is found in the practice itself. Some may say, even if home is never attained, comfort lies in trying.
Finding a place that feels like home can be a balancing act as one constantly walks a tight rope through space in its pursuit. Immigrants, first-generation nationals and minorities others are often left to walk these lines even as they become frayed, and as the beginnings, ends and boundaries they denote lose meaning. Louise Bourgeois’ totems, the first group of pieces she created in New York in the late 40′s and early 50′s after first arriving from France, come to mind. “The Personages reflect not only the forms of the surrounding skyscrapers… but also [her] relation to people she had left behind in France or met in her new environment in America.”01. This idea of not only looking backwards but also looking forward is part of the balance artists seek in the studio, regardless of displacement related to finding home. Each of the artists in this exhibition undertakes this task in different ways, resulting in different practices and results. These differences are highlighted as an overall experience within this exhibit, aimed at moving the viewer back and forth, in order to initiate a more open discussion about placement, identity and community in relation to the search for HOME.
Originally from Greece, Maria Christoforatou has studied in London since 2008. Due to a deep sensitivity from childhood, Christoforatou’s practice revolves primarily around the pursuit to find home. She explains, “My main concern in my work has been to examine the fragility of the concept of home and the unstable quality of belonging. A major preoccupation throughout my work is an exploration of the close relationship between the emotional and the physical in terms of ‘home’, and the ways in which art practice can read and mediate that relationship.” This relationship is important for her as it creates the tension needed to stay focused on her surroundings. She continues, “My research focuses on experiences of displacement from home and how ‘home’ is identified, mediated and ‘re-made’ in certain contemporary art practices, as a state of mind that is internalized and carried within. In particular, this research looks at ways in which artists bring home to the audience emotions relating to the experience of personal and also cultural dislocation.”
In a recent interview with Kornelia Pawlukowska, Christoforatou goes further, “By home, I mean that first place in a person’s life with which a young child may identify and internalize so that it is carried with him or her throughout life. If this internalized home or sense of security, is destroyed or destabilized in any way, it may be possible to suffer a powerful sense of loss or displacement.”02. This displacement is tangible throughout Christoforatou’s work. Take Construction Series, 2012-2014, a series of black and white collages. They are like puzzles completed by using pieces from several different puzzle boxes. There is actual unity in their disjunction. There is a longing to find truth in each space, familiar and yet so distant. We can imagine walking through these spaces, as if in a dream, or what we might see if we walked through a familiar space with our eyes closed. There is a similar sense of longing in the more refined sculptures. Their outlines leave interiors vulnerable to the exterior, while leaving all the surrounding space open to interpretation. This is an important element in the work as it remains open for the viewer to approach, and more importantly remains open for Christoforatou. This openness unfolds itself within ceramic and plaster in Untitled, 2007. The solid form, still open to possibility, is filled with shades and hues, as if forming from memories. This simple silhouette form stands in contrast to the subtle complexities within the matrix used to fill it. Memory and a search for home are synonymous in Christoforatou’s work. Her play with the past and the present warps time just long enough to get a glimpse at omni-space. She has traveled through time and seen her life-span in a moment.
Like Christoforatou’s silhouettes, the forms of Kei Imai’s silhouettes are immediately recognizable. There is a softness and ease of handling to the images and oil-based print materials. Imai’s restraint is the key to attaining this balance. We are presented with two types of renditions: a straight-on viewpoint and a corner viewpoint. The viewpoints entice us to different approaches, yet somehow manage to create similar encounters with space. The power of these vantage points is that we viewers actually become the subjects and are forced to confront each surface as we would a familiar space. We are faced with varied interiors pressing their textures throughout. This internal air becomes mystical, a soothing unknown place for our minds to rest. Imai suggests the work is, “A time when I interact with myself, a time I feel alone, quiet and sacred time passes by.” This healing time, represented in contained forms — houses, buildings and shipping containers — suggests a confrontation with space. This is neither an easy or unwelcome struggle, rather, Imai seems to relish in it. Her inquiry into the space she occupies is restorative and comforting.
Prints may seem like a perfect way to understand space as the medium allows for multiples. What better way to attain clarity than through repetition? Imai, however, works against this idea. She states, “many of my pieces do not have editions, and I cherish the randomness that comes by only once. The important thing is a sense of distance and tension with the plate. That is because, if excessive randomness is sought and everything is set free, that will weaken the power of the plate.” In not creating editions of the pieces, Imai is almost working contrary to the very medium in which she has chosen to work. This elevates her work, granting Imai even more knowledge about her structures. Her investigations continue from form to form, moving deeper into a range of possibilities offering deeper knowledge, particularly about the variations of interior textures. The air particles of winter, 2007, and containers, 2008 allude to the meatier viscosity of pen, 2007 and the corrugated nature of pen ii, 2007. These combinations form the essence of the questions Imai asks of her surroundings. They are silent in discovery and muted in response. Imai moved from Japan to London just over a year ago. These images reflect the humility with which she approaches her environment and offer a glimpse of the parallels that surround us all.
We move to repetition of a different kind in Jody Hays’ paintings. They are so much about navigating the space around her. They unravel from neighborhood streets and familiar walks to unusual vantage points and second-take phenomena. An underlying tension derives from vacillations within the paintings’ interiors and exteriors melding into the surface. With a concern for clarity within theses spaces, Hays negotiates and displays the whole of the discoveries within the American South upfront for all to see. Whether an added brush stroke, cut-out space or masked surface, each layer reveal more layers. Hays acknowledges the influence of physical space on her work: “inhabited space, specifically landscape and architecture and their potential metaphors for the painted surface … painting [as] an accounting of a composite of influences — from the history of painting to experiences on a walk — serving as a surrogate souvenir.” The composite painting that unveils itself is more than just a record. It is the livelihood of home, the presence of space and life that Hays brings to her materials. As Hays reflects on her own relationship to the space, she uncovers what home means to her within her surroundings and more importantly, what the idea of “home” means to her community.
An interplay of synergistic emotion is clear in rail, 2013 and Crunkest Jesus, 2013. The solitude in which rail sits perfectly content is enough to take notice, but the surface pushes beyond comfort in solitude. Flats versus textured blocks denote form as hazy delineation creates an ambiance of uncertainty. A single white rail cleanly painted is riffed in the back building by a fuzzy red line and to the right by a bowed yellow line. These subtle contradictions hover over the page and animate the space to offer a first-hand experience — as if we are in the paintings. Crunkest Jesus again depicts a perhaps familiar space, yet Hays interjects when we feel ourselves getting a little too comfortable. The washed striated feel of the surfaces, built up then covered with strong repeating vertical lines causes us to stir and reposition. This repositioning gives the viewer a wider vantage point from which to view the space — something Hays regularly contends with in these multi-layered paintings. Hays is particular about which focal points lend themselves to reveal the most out of each space. Throughout all of these paintings, spaces dance with light, form and color as they peer silently at a segment of time within a moment of life, forming identity within community.
Olivia Bax jumps off the two-dimensional surface and appears to be grappling with issues similar to Hays’, only in three dimensions. From Singapore to Scotland to London, Bax has found her way by being ever-aware of her sense of home. Much like Hays, Bax takes this awareness to materiality. She notes, “When inspired by an idea, material or object, I try to explore its every facet. The wealth of possibilities drives me to keep making. I repeat an action — printing, stuffing, casting, cutting, embossing, mark making until I have enough material to use / to create. While encountering problems in the studio is rather mundane — solving them is a challenge.” This repetition and re-action is a way into the objects that occupy Bax’s sense of space. Bax seems to begin her challenge by contemplating spaces, and the making allows her to wander around just long enough to appreciate its potential. Her action results in a performance. This private dance is not made available to the public, nor is it pertinent to understanding the complexity of the work. It is, however, important to understanding the sheer focus and dignity with which Bax approaches each new problem.
Perhaps an immediate jump to a sense of home may be Wrap bundle, 2013/2014. One cannot help but think of a protective layer, or shelter, or even a life raft like those used by many to flee one’s home at great risk before finding another. The blue that Bax has wrapped around the foamed material extends to the support on which the material relies on to stand. This solid unity obscures many aspects of identity to bring the form more frontal. Matching straps seem a little too loose to hold in the tension, as if the bundle wishes to set itself free. Similar in touch, Sac, 2014 and Package, 2014 take a much different approach. In these two pieces, materials are offered up as consumer goods, as if one has rowed the raft to shore in order to replenish necessities. The vagueness of function (and with Sac, vagueness of form) plays to the idea of necessity in identity and the familiarity of the objects we use to create our home. The strength in these pieces is in the honesty with which they are presented. It may not be the product we actually seek, but the pleasure of finding it. These subtle nods reflect throughout each of Bax’s pieces presented here. Her handling of surface and material are masterfully honest.
As artist’s struggle with balance and the interplay of forces within life and studio practice, one can only hope to accept the inability to contain it. Like this vacillating effect, the artist must approach her work with ease and gusto, almost to snap the balance and start anew. Jochen Gerz describes searching for “a point which does not properly exist, but which can only be conjectured from both contending forces.”03. There is a certain amount of faith that falls on the artist to accept his or her destiny with place. Don DeMauro described this as “being thrown”. “I am of a certain age, and… because of where I appeared on this globe, I am an existentialist. Existentialism, and not in the way it became a more structured philosophy, but as a kind of inherent sense of thrown-ness…and in that thrown-ness, again, this is an important thing, we are just thrown in time….”04. To Don, practice is not about where you are from, but how you become who you are. The imbalance here is that so much of our identity comes from where we are from. What we build from there through our queries and problem solving will reveal our true “homespaces”.
Within practice, the artist can only make sense of surroundings and after a certain point, let go. It is then up to the viewer to take a leap of faith. This work does not have to be about the individual tight-rope walk. It transfers to each and every one of us. We all take this walk each day in one form or another. We must first be aware of our weaknesses before we adapt our strengths, but most importantly, we much realize that everyone else has a unique lens through which they view these steps. Accepting these different modes of viewing the world may help us all realize that we are all not that different after all. All we really want are a few comforts of home.
Exhibition gallery: click on an image below to view the exhibition.
01. Morris, Francis. Louise Bourgeois. London: Tate 2007. print., page 208.
03. von draven, doris. vortex of silence. milan: charta, 2004. print., page 114.
“The Stranger within Oneself” pages 105-116
04. INTERVIEW: Ros, John. Interview by author. Digital recording. Johnson City, NY., 17 June, 2012.
other exhibits in this series:
13 october – 09 november 2014: conversations: SPACE&time
08 December 2014 – 11 January 2015: conversations: exterior—interior
This 3-part series of exhibitions is an investigation into specific ideas within artists’ practices and how those paths unfold into the broader conversation for the audience. Each exhibit will bring artists from the US and the UK together to begin discussions into slightly obscure ideas that resonate throughout broader, less-obvious themes. SPACE&time: a look into how space and time may shift and how our own perspectives of each affect our experiences; /HOME/, a discussion on what it means to be “home” and how artists work to create that experience; and exterior—interior, how the morphing of space can allow it to become both interior and exterior at the same time.
The studio is the starting point for all of these conversations. When one experiences an artist’s raw, unedited practice, you can begin to better understand the depth of research involved. Not all work is a success, nor should it be. Of those “horrible works”, our instinct is to put it away, to bury it, destroy it. At Brooklyn College, Archie Rand always said to keep that piece hung in the studio and to stare at it, to communicate with it, to allow for it to loom over our practice a while. He reassured us that it was a pure and honest expression from our gut and eventually it would reveal its purpose. In a similar vain, Kirsten Nash recently curated the exhibit, Pleasure & Pain, for galleryELL.
From studio to exhibition, this series aims to create a venue for honest creativity and a discussion of possibilities.