Tripe/Graphite Works

      This body of work extends to drawing, sculpture and photography; its center is large-scale works on paper printed with tripe and graphite.  I came to use stomach lining because its origin, texture and figuration gave me a different way to inflect space in drawing. 

       I am interested in registering human presence in the drawings. I work with dispersed volume rather than line, impress rather than painterly depiction, and employ mark-making through pushing out rather than forming an image keyed to a surface. In this way I rebalance things toward the sense of touch; one of my primary motivations. It is a relief to dislodge the primacy of the eye and create a form that inspires physical empathy and curiosity.  Apace with this is the scattering of gravity in the drawings. The graphite becomes a delicate body-skein. It spawns a frothy skin, transparent and receptive. 

      I want the reciprocity I can enact between the body and what’s outside it. The rhythm of compression and expansion of the tripe cells is likewise an allegory for the way we move through the world: equaling, emerging, exceeding, and shrinking back from our physical selves.

Drawings in Gouache

     These works, ranging in size from 9x12 to 50x50 inches (22x30 to 142x127 cm), originate in sculpture.  I use gouache to work with color and form, which in turn becomes a twinned language of figuration and abstraction.  Figuration can draw abstraction alongside like a wake, and through them both I navigate the erotic nature of space in drawing.  I push a sense of the figure deeply into abstraction, tying them together and pushing them apart.  

     As I do so, looking becomes a matter of culling out a form, one that inspires physical empathy and curiosity.  I work with color and layers of white within a spectrum of veiling and opacity, erasure and solid volume.  There are aqueous shapes that stand alone or butt up against each other, drowned in white. They are my way of mobilizing and rallying, rousing and convening a steadfast interest in the palpable yet hard to parse relationship between the body and space.

     I build space through and among the forms in my drawings as a way of charging the work with questions:  What is the unsettled nature of physical and psychic presence?  Can I assemble with color and a pencil lead, the ways we are separate from what surrounds us, and the ways we are crucially enmeshed. 

Published Critical Writing

Rebecca Horn at Sean Kelly Gallery

Jody Lee Drafta   2012

      In her show at Sean Kelly gallery, RavensGold Rush, Rebecca Horn shows herself to be an artist who continues to make persuasive and profound work decades into her career.  This formidable exhibit brings together her large-scale paintings on paper, a 1986 sculpture called Gold Rush and two more recent works in sculpture.  
      At first viewing, Horn’s paintings could read as the graphical translation of some astral occurrence.  Long rows of translucent grey dots extend up, descend and dive across the page. Stick-length shards of colored line spin and splinter away.  Red marks skitter under pressure, compounding the sense of emphatic motion as do light graphite streaks.  Orange smears, finger-width and opaque, cross ribbons of black that brake and start again in frayed sections.  The marks possess astounding lyrical power and a hallmark intertwining of delicacy and vehemence.  Painting functions forHorn as image but also as a sort of energy snare that collects the traces her concentration leaves when, as she says, “I build my own cosmos”[1].  The beauty of this work arises in part from that speculative urgency, none of which abates as the paintings become finished works.
      There is a concentrated area corresponding to shoulder height in each of the large paintings where the mark-making becomes more layered and intense.  Here, white acrylic in thumb-width streaks submerge other marks and acts as a coagulant. There is the sense of coeval building and releasing, of rapid rotation, and awakening.  What finds its way onto the page conveys the broadest possible sense of human belonging, making her works on paper comparable in tone to one of life or nature’s own chaotic processes. Though the result of activity, the paintings seem withal a poignant summary of the individual who made them: part physicist, part tantric sonneteer.
      In the gallery’s main space are two sculptures.  The first, Ravens Forest, is a 40” high glass vitrine covered with imprints of black feathers, reminiscent of a startled, rising cloud-like flock of birds, swathed in its own shadow cast against the wall.  Inside the glass and startling in the surrounding softness is a braided riding crop vertically that traces an arc.  In its gradual, halting movement it behaves not unlike the spoor of human presence in a landscape.  Further, it bears resembles the Duschampian trope where a mechanism defines eroticized space, as in The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even.  A similarly thorough amalgam of space, human presence, mechanism and the erotic has been central to Horn’s artistic production throughout her career.   
      The Raven Tree, arguably the principal work in this show, is an attenuated, luxuriant object fashioned from arcing lengths of copper pipe, ground charcoal amassed in siphons, a rotating mirror and motorized disks. Like vast undulating serpents the copper piping forms the tree’s branches and the disks transmit their motion along them, lending a subtle shake to the work’s sizeable mass.  Then aural punctuation comes. At the ends of certain branches dark carved wood forms a snapping bird’s mouth.  A motor lightly grinds and these mouths open then flatly shut, a spare chorus of blind birds snapping cruelly at the air, then more arrestingly at sheets of crumpled gold with which the artist has lined their mouths. Greedy and importunate, they will not be sated.  
      One relates to The Raven Tree and Gold Rush of 1986 very differently. The Raven Tree’s inviting scale suggests it is a place and story to be entered rather than a tautly structured object.  But well past the physical mirror it contains, The Raven Tree offers a mirror trained in our direction, one that produces a rendering of our moral state as a consuming, copper-haired Medea, or a gold-laden but impecunious tree from a reduced, end times garden of eden.

[1] Quoted from remarks bythe artist during the premier of her film ‘Moon Mirror Journey’ (2011) at theRubin Museum, 10/29/2011.

Katharina Grosse : One Floor Up More Highly , Mass MoCA

JodyLee Drafta   2011

      As tempting as it may be to see Katharina Grosse’s One Floor Up MoreHighly, now on view at Mass MoCA, as the sensually gratifying installation it appears to be, it is closer in intent to an exercise in depletion and dismantling.  What gets undone in the course of traversing this startling and vigorous work is our own understanding of the divisions between works of art and reality, and any unexamined notions we possess of the separability of painting from space.

     One Floor Up More Highly is housed in three galleries among Mass MoCA’s architectural complex of vast manufacturing remains.  It consists of three main ‘islands’ of material, all of which begin on the floor with softly undulating hills of mounded dirt, variously sized boulders and intermittent drip-like patches of flattened, discarded clothing. The dirt, boulders, clothing and some of the adjacent walls are painted in brilliant, mingling streaks of primary blue, red and yellow, as well as green and orange.  Resting on the dirt are sharp, thick, elongated shards of brilliant white styrofoam.  Next to the painted dirt, these are shockingly white, rising and twisting sharply according to how each piece is faceted.  Some of the shards rise in a perpendicular array from the main floor up to the mezzanine above, some lean against the dirt, verging onto the floor.  The scale of all the elements is masterfully planned to build on the viewer’s relation to the building, whose sheer enormity puts OneFloor Up More Highly in the same family of experiences as descrying a landscape, or the weather. One ambles slowly around and through the piece, gaining elevation in the mezzanine area and turning back again to absorb its many rounded vistas.  The bright color of the dirt and boulders coerces the viewer’s attention abruptly and the sharply linear styrofoam scatters it laterally away, all within the other-worldly and plentiful light that enters the porous space through eighty or more windows. 

      Grosse plants myriad visual-semantic signposts discouraging us from reading OneFloor Up as a discreet work, operating separately from the space surrounding it. There is no privileged latitude within the piece toward which the eye settles, no restful sense of gravity.  Thus the gaze is relieved of its obligation to ‘arrive’. As this process develops, the piece sheds any comfortable recourse to identity as an object, installation, or image. The piece asks that we allow the routine spatial framing we do in observing works of art be dismantled, in favor of a sensual-spatial-intellectual pursuit that leeches away our sense of where painting belongs and its familiar modes of elocution.  We are left, then, in as lightly elevated zone, more vagrant than we’re used to, whose hallmark seems to be a multi-directional, unlabeled state. 

      It would be possible argue that there are more recognizable contexts in which to see OneFloor Up More Highly, and that it does in fact distill to an image such as the geology of this or some other planet.  But even if a reference to an extra-remote landscape is irrefutably present, the artist employs it for her own ends: to induce a condition where our normal mode of awareness, habitually assuming its own continuity, is exchanged for one where we experience the split between our physical presence there in the installation and a vast reference to remoteness itself.  Grosse indicates, dispassionately and without palpably leading her audience, that everything our minds contain, including our physical experience is equally viable and available, irreconcilable but coextensive.  In order to graze this new territory, One Floor Up More Highly performs a series of rich de-calibrations and epistemological depletions regarding space and painting.  And as we follow Grosse’s work out in its conceptual and sensual wealth, her assured handling of color, scale and material forces our admission of the contradictory notions and experiences of which we are made.

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