Thursday, November 22, 2007

transforming structures of the world proposed

Work by Matthew Kolodziej and Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson currently on display at William Busta Gallery in Cleveland propose to this viewer ways of rethinking and renewing the legacy of Abstract Expressionism. It's as if, paraphrasing what Busta said in agreement with me when I visited yesterday afternoon, we have enough distance now from Pollack that an "all-over" approach to the application of paint to canvas is possible again. Where Kolodziej and Jonsson depart from their forebears, however – and it is a significant but of course arguable departure – is how, eschewing formalism for its own sake, they subtly reinscribe the social and material world into their paintings.

Kolodziej's EnhanceDan Tranberg's write-up in this Sunday's Plain Dealer and the reproduction of a Kolodziej painting it contained are what caught my attention (see, for example, Enhance [2007]). The interplay of line and color seemed to arise from spontaneity into abstraction while somehow retaining vestiges of order; the PD's caption, "the artist begins his process with photographs of buildings, which he projects and traces onto his large canvases," was enough to make me stop reading, put down the paper and plan to head down to the gallery (located in near midtown, not that far from where those classic Pere Ubu albums were recorded).

Buildings, constructions, sites, non-sites, exist and are inhabited in both space and time. So also, Freud mused in The Interpretation of Dreams, "that Rome is not a human habitation but a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past – an entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one." Architectural time passes much slower than clock time (but not as slow as geological time). A building can survive for centuries and yet be collapsed in a matter of minutes or seconds, the event of evacuated space leaving a traumatic scar that can reverberate at length.

Kolodziej's paintings capture and convey those spatial and temporal transitions, objects and moments of human construction and destruction that are transformed. But into what? Hard to say. The vestiges of structures remain, giving the paintings their formal necessity; nowhere however (save perhaps in the painter's studio or personal effects) are these structures identified with their material specificity. Kolodziej does not name names of buildings or sites: instead, these (non)sites are frequently transformed into abstractions, with titles like Pretense, Restoration, etc. Additionally, with (in Tranberg's words) "Kolodziej's color palette, which ranges from chocolate and carmel to raspberry and lemon, makes it difficult to see these scenes as true tragedies. [...] it's difficult not to read these paintings as representations of an absurdist, candy-coated culture of destruction."

An intriguing reading, but I don't quite agree. Kolodziej does not strike me as the cool ironist or cutting satirist. At least not entirely. These works won't be reduced to brute materialism or pure aestheticism; they capture and transform transitional, multiple states of matter and energy. From the artist's statement: "These improbable structures fluctuate between forming and deteriorating synapses." Indeed as Freud already suggested, this language of neuroplasticity is no mere metaphor when applied to physical structures.

Jonsson's Sandstorm"During the past 12 years, Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson has created series of works based upon images of brains scans, celestial objects, and most frequently, the landscape of Iceland" (WBG exhibition brochure). These might be seen serving an analagous role to Kolodziej's (de)construction (non)sites, namely as the formal necessity for the painting. Jonsson's processes and results, at the very least, are quite different. Her paintings are equally textiles, as she weaves together singly-dyed strands of silk fiber. Her Sandstorm, depicted here, is the only image i could embed here and does not immediately resemble (and may have been achieved with a different process) her latest series, The Vatnajökull Paintings, named after the Icelandic glacier that is Europe's biggest. (Some of these are on display at WBG; you can view them at her website.) The exact nature of weaving process and the extent to which the paintings reference the glacier itself is not entirely clear to me; regardless, the effect is quite stunning. I was reminded of Gerhard Richter's squeegee-smeared surfaces, but Jonsson's woven silks have a depth that evokes overprinting, while the dying and staining evokes Helen Frankenthaler (who stained raw unprimed canvas but never single threads).

Like Kolodziej, the real word is serving as Jonsson's template here, and an order derived from the tangible world. These are no unfettered expressions of the genius ego. Instead, rigorous application of method in both cases works a transformation upon structures of the world proposed.

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