Catharine Clark Gallery opens Summer 2019 with "Don’t Touch My Circles," a group exhibition of work across media by Kim Beck, Kevin Cooley, Nicki Green, Bill Jacobson, Jana Sophia Nolle, Stephanie Syjuco, and Marie Watt. The exhibition’s title references a quote attributed to Greek mathematician and astronomer Archimedes (287 – 212 BCE) who, upon confrontation with a Roman soldier during the conquest of Syracuse, pointed to geometric figures drawn in the sand and entreated Noli turbare circulos meos (“Do not disturb my circles”) before he was stabbed to death. While the authenticity of the quote is uncertain, the metaphors it invokes are especially salient in our political moment, as we consider how artists and creative practitioners stand up for their beliefs and ideas through their practice. In that vein, the works on view explore how familiar forms and motifs from art history – such as landscape and abstraction – can be invested with, and activated through, deep commitment to critique and political action.
Kim Beck’s series "Pothole Positives" (2019) features bronze or glass sculptures cast from potholes on a single street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Presented on a large table in the front gallery, the individual sculptures resemble specimens from an unknown terrain, and invite closer examination and study. Beck notes that the sculptures “point to the road as a kind of memorial or monument to all the people who travel it, allowing commerce and conquest, rendered from tar and stones, shaping the landscape.” By extension, the castings both commemorate an ever-changing landscape while suggesting the impermanence of our inhabited and lived spaces.
Bill Jacobson’s photographs, by comparison, expand upon the language of landscape photography to consider embedded relationships to both built environments and memory. In the series "Some Planes" (2008), Jacobson sought desert sites in the American West where the interplay between land and sky evoked the constructed, planar forms of modernist architecture. In the resulting images, these landscapes are distilled into muted, geometric compositions that resemble minimal forms from painting traditions like hard edge abstraction, where the field of vision is, in Jacobson’s words, reduced to “two separate but equal areas of form and color.” A trio of recent gelatin silver print photographs (2018), in contrast, depict blurred forest scenes where the natural forms are both instantly recognizable and difficult to discern, the defocused images evoking the diffuse quality of memory, while also reflecting the instability of “the uncertain times in which we currently live.”
Stephanie Syjuco’s newest series of photographs, “Hard Light” (2019), debut in this exhibition, and further the artist’s investigation of how we relate to histories of colonialism and power through a coded language of “color.” In this series, Syjuco spray paints white Oriental lilies and white tulips – species of plants indigenous to countries through Asia that were subsequently cultivated through colonial trade – with Krylon aerosol paint. While vibrant and formally arresting, Syjuco’s images also invite a more trenchant investigation of how we codify otherness, and how color bears a literal and proverbial weight upon our collective consciousness. Placed in the context of contemporary American politics, "Hard Light" is also a meditation on how identities are being edited, amplified, erased, and even whitewashed.
Nicki Green’s hybrid clay sculptures investigate otherness through metaphors drawn from mycology and mushrooms. Green writes that “the origin of this work began after discovering the 1938 text "Der Giftpilz (The Toadstool, or The Poisonous Mushroom)" by Julius Streicher, that describes Jewish bodies’ shifting legibility as threatening or ‘poisonous’ to the Aryan race. What began as a body of work exploring the mushroom form as ‘figure’ has since expanded to consider the fluid ways in which bodies engage with each other.” In considering the unstable boundaries of mushrooms – their “in-betweenness” between plant and animal, their growth from decomposition, and their asexual reproduction – Green evokes a lexicon of mycology to explore metaphors of transness. At the same time, Green invites us to consider how mushrooms can suggest an “expansion and inner-connectivity” that goes beyond conventional understandings of corporeal singularity.
Viewers encounter Marie Watt’s "Skywalker/Skyscraper (Allegory)" (2012) upon entering the Gallery Two. Measuring nineteen feet in width, Watt’s monumental wall-based work is comprised of reclaimed wool blankets, a material important to Indigenous populations in the Americas. Watt notes that blankets “are everyday objects that can carry extraordinary histories of use,” and that “in Indigenous communities” such as the Seneca Nation (of which Watts is a member), “blankets are given away to honor those who are witness to important life events.” "Skywalker/Skyscraper (Allegory)," by extension, was inspired by Watt’s move to Brooklyn, and her discovery that the border of Cobble Hill and Gowanus (the locations of her home and studio, respectively) was “where Iroquois ironworkers and their families settled in the 1950s, when most of Manhattan's skyscrapers were being built.” Watt remarks that “these Iroquois were called ‘skywalkers’ due to their ability to work on the high steel without safety harnesses.” With her textile work, she invites viewers to consider our built and natural environments, as well as the impetus to constantly “reach” towards a mythic space that towers above us.
Jana Sophia Nolle’s photo series "Living Room" (2017/2018) document temporary homeless shelters recreated from materials found in the street and erected in various affluent living rooms in San Francisco. In developing the project, Nolle worked with unhoused persons to understand how their improvised dwellings were constructed. After establishing these relationships, and with the permission of the unhoused individuals, Nolle approached wealthy people for permission to reconstruct these shelters and photograph them in their homes. Nolle remarks that “the photographs are an inventory, a typology of improvised dwellings, cataloging their various attributes.” While aesthetically striking, Nolle’s photographs also “touch on larger phenomena of socio-political changes, housing shortages, exclusion and gentrification going far beyond San Francisco. How much is our home, whether house or tent, the determining factor for selecting our social group? How much does being homeless define somebody who might also be intelligent, creative and social?” Nolle’s presentation will be accompanied by public programming, in conjunction with community partners, as part of an ongoing gallery initiative to build dialogue around issues facing unhoused populations in the Bay Area; further details forthcoming.
Kevin Cooley’s video installation, "Clear as Day" (2019), debuts in the gallery’s Media Room. The video comprises a real-time twitter feed of the hashtag #climateaction, a term that Cooley notes in “often used to denote there is still hope for the environment.” By presenting this scrolling text on the gallery wall over projected clouds of billowing red, white, and blue smoke, the work becomes a visual manifestation of political and environmental dialogues taking place online. Cooley remarks that “tweets containing this term appear dozens of times an hour on average. As they scroll by, the installation references the short-lived relevance of any singular tweet among the 350 million that are posted every day. As the tweets build up over the day, the work highlights Twitter’s collective impact, becoming a visualization of social media’s power to connect us, while also underlining the increasing difficulty in distinguishing truth and relevance in the online world.
By extension, Cooley’s photo series "Smoke and Mirrors" (2019) features geometric mirrors suspended above particular Western landscapes such as the San Gabriel Mountains. The mirrors appear to levitate above wispy clouds of smoke, while also obscuring the landscape in the background, an interplay that invites reflection on our rapidly weakening and opaque environmental policies.
The exhibition is accompanied by a viewing room presentation of "The Truth Be Told" (2019) by LigoranoReese, a new video and photograph derived from the artists’ most recent ice sculpture: a 2,500 pound sculpture of the word “Truth,” installed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in front of the Capitol Building. Compiled from over eight hours of footage, the time lapse video depicts the sculpture as it melts and breaks. With a soundtrack that includes recorded statements from Donald Trump about the ongoing investigations of the 2016 presidential election, the video underlines the increasingly precarious relationship to systems of belief – both political and ontological – in our contemporary moment.