On seeing work by Kate Harding, Elana Mann and Alex Slade
At Edward Cella on Saturday the gallery space was quiet feeling and naturally lit – the sun entering from a skylight brought inside the clarity of a bright Fall day, but softened it. Light was diffuse and it featured well the many textures and details in the work on display.
Elana Mann’s series of photographic prints (from the Improvised Balloon Device series) fairly glowed – they are printed on soft, matte paper have a precious and out-of-time feeling, almost like those hand colored and touched up black and white photographs of your grandparents. The pictures were taken in some sort of radiant fog and have minimal use of colors – only tan, fuzzy white and black. Mann’s black is of the blackest petroleum products, her tan is of weeds and dirt and the fuzzy white is like a memory or a dream. The colors are rich.
Rich, too is the allusive nature of Mann’s project: a woman dressed in black bears on her shoulders a load of black balloons in a large net sack. She might be carrying this load to an oil pump in an otherwise abandoned landscape, this woman might be carrying away her precious allotment of black matter, she might be engaged in a ritual or a protest or making an offering to ensure the delivery of that necessary economic lubricant, oil. This mysterious woman’s face looks something like an imagined My Antonia from Willa Cather’s novel – She embodies one who bears, her face confronts me, her struggle is universal as well as unique to her – her face is beautiful and full of, what – concern? pain? whatever – she is adamant and also clever enough to dress in black velvet for this occasion. The balloons that she carries drift almost magically, and certainly sensually, into my consciousness – I find them above me, gathered into their net sack, looming like a cloud of latex perfume – heavy, somber and lovely. I want to crouch under an imagined weight but my nose pulls me upward.
Kate Harding’s sculptural drawings on pleated vellum fare equally well in this charmed-seeming space – perhaps the work that I was seeing created the atmosphere and this is why it all looked so well…
My initial response to the folds and pleats was to follow with my mind’s eye a path around and between the folds. I pictured fingers touching, feeling, scoring and laying vellum over itself. Then I recalled a story my architect husband tells of sensing a flatness in drawings produced by digital means. He explained this to me, “When one draws a building or a detail, one’s hands learn that line weight implies a heaviness or slightness of material, a person drawing has a physical experience of the space and of the solids that make a structure. When fingers dance along a keyboard and make a lines of light, this implies nothing to the physical part of one’s brain. This is a struggle in passing skills along to another generation.”
Only loosely does this story apply to Harding’s work, but the physical experience of drawing as allegory of space and matter holds true, and quite nicely. It is rarer than necessary that my mind and my body both are engaged by an experience with art, and Harding manages this in each of the four pieces that she shows.
I understand that Harding’s landscapes depict very real places: there is a particular tree which is part of the artist’s life or her memory, and a highway that Harding experienced first in one condition that after was regraded to allow for more traffic – leaving telephone poles and wires both bizarrely suspended far above the earth.
It occurs to me (and thanks for this Kate) that drawing does invite one’s body into the experience: my eyes follow along with the tip of the pencil as I imagine the artist pushing that tool and marking paper. I mightn’t recognize this fact with such immediacy except for Harding’s pleating and taping. As to the taping: once grabbed, an image – a drawing – must be fixed, and what better way to express this control the artist must have, than with artist’s tape holding in place an imagined space, a memory of a landscape.
Alex Slade has been showing landscape photographs and sculptures loosely draped around ideas of landscape for more than a decade in Los Angeles. Here he shows two works from a familiar series of Inland Empire housing development photographs. It has the timeliness of insanity that Slade’s pictures depicting the long, anguished moments between agriculture and residential impulses should be shown now. Let’s face it – California style mass farming has been as discredited as the McMansions of mass housing that litter the inland valleys of Southern California and nothing says “failure” quite as well as empty houses (which are now) waiting for nobody.
Slade shows another project, and this is why I mention his sculptural practice. On view is a single, large, mostly black photograph of a forest at night. This photograph is mounted and not laminated, so it hangs slightly loose and it… bulges and ripples a bit. Bad words, I know, but I cannot think of other more felicitous terms. The effect is powerful and subtle and – as with the two projects by Harding and Mann – intensely physical. There is no glazing over the photo and this allows my eyes to touch the photo paper. My imagined body travels in the same light as my eyes.
I am told that Slade prints his own images and so, again, my mind tries to encompass what must have been his actions. I think this object of his – as a photograph – becomes a sculpture more effectively than anything that I have seen from the artist in the past, and with much less self-conscious objectification than work by many photographer-as-object-makers.
The single ‘dark forest’ photo in the show (the gallery has two such images) is gorgeous and idiosyncratic and interesting. It struck me while looking that previous bodies of work by Alex Slade that I have seen – including Vacant Lots, a series taken in shopping centers, a previous Inland Empire series – all have been shot in daylight and each of them document man’s impact on the natural world and on man’s own place in that built world. This forest series is the only natural world work that I have seen by Slade, and it is photographed in the night.
The exhibition is titled Some City Angels and there is much more work and several additional artists to be seen. The show closes on October 29, 2011.
Edward Cella is at 6018 Wilshire Boulevard, 90036
Edward Cella website: http://www.edwardcella.com/html/exhibitions.asp