Press Release: “Para-Verbal Vocab”

“Para-Verbal Vocab” showed in the SPRING/BREAK Art Show 2017, in room 2318, from March 1-6.  The show opened Tuesday, February 28th.

The exhibition is curated by Kristen Racaniello.

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Christa Pratt speaking with Danny Coeyman about her work at the opening of  Para-Verbal Vocab.

Original Press Release: 

Meaningful verbal vernacular is dead.  We live in a world of alt-fact, ego-driven, insular-nationalist leadership.  In a parallel history to the progression of American english, artists have developed personal visual vocabularies as mediators between individual self and global identity.  The artists in this exhibition have created an idioglossic language– a vocabulary of alphabet mark which only they can understand and create. These alternate vocabularies can be used to utter interior truths that are otherwise oppressed.

The resurgence of an emphasis on Materiality in art is an attempt to assert presence and existence within a world of ephemerality and fluidity.  The artists included in Para-Verbal Vocab. grasp onto the idea of selfhood and grapple with its complexity through physical repetition, multiplication of form, darkness, and an encroaching, sculptural materiality in their paintings.  These artists include Katherine Bradford, Courtney Childress, Christa Pratt, Eleanna Anagnos, Katie Hector, Lena Schmid, and Mandy Lyn Ford

As technology develops, a crisis of the Self proliferates throughout society.  Our virtual lives performed through social media develop simultaneously and distinctly from our physical, bodily self. Even within social media platforms different selves are constructed; self presentation  is different on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, LinkedIn profiles… the list of virtual selves is endless and distinct.  This phenomena of decentered, socially relational selfhood manifests itself visually and is explored by artists today.

The search for individuality, newness, production, and expression through paint are all attempts to capture the self and manifest its real-ness in solid physical form through developing an interior visual language. The promise of uniqueness and individuality through art; those by-products of Expressionism, Kant and Renaissance Fetishism, is a well maintained illusion.  How can painters explore the creation of “selves” through this physical and historically charged medium?

The application of paint creates an indexical mark and it is in part this association with indexicality that gives paint its association with authenticity.  The materiality of paint therefore acts as an appropriate conduit for the formation of physical selfhood.  Katherine Bradford, Courtney Childress, Mandy Lyn Ford and Eleanna Anagnos take the repetition of form as a point of departure.  Each repeated character is unique, as seen in the jagged ship-shapes found in Katherine Bradford’s work; these rely on the materiality of the mark itself via the painterly index to generate individual charecters. The index is a verification of origin and therefore indicates authenticity through its directness and independence from the maker.  This authenticity is embedded in the work of Courtney Childress, who uses the repeated mark of high pile carpet as a ground on which to play with the repetition of the index as a form of sensory recall.  The audience of her works becomes aware of their own self construction through culturally embedded memories surrounding carpet, paint, crayon, dirt, rules, restrictions, and childhood actions.  Through the audience’s personal projection, Childress as an artist-self is pushed away, hidden from the viewer by the material of her works.

The exploration of a single mark in Lena Schmid, Katie Hector, and Christa Pratt’s work plays a similar role; it is an exploration of the multiplicity of the mark within their own closed visual circuit created through repetition and proliferation.  Lena Schmid uses her finger prints to create an undulating foliage of black-hole space. In the obliterating repetition of this identity mark, Schmid loses the very self she imprints on her surfaces.   Katie Hector repeats the same mark through multiple works using thick, glossy black enamel whose reflective surface causes the audience to confront themselves within it.  Christa Pratt also repeats marks throughout multiple pieces, confronting her viewers with questions about their social perceptions and inherent bias toward blackness as an identity.  By these means, the mark becomes a surrogate for the self: its exploration is a self exploration.Para-Verbal Vocab-6.jpg

The self-constructing nature of the index and mark are not the only elements of these works which will be explored in this show.  The highly physical materiality of these paintings, as seen in Eleanna Anagnos’ work Winter Seance, combats the immateriality of the virtual self and attempts to assert physical presence as a thing. Mandy Lyn Ford pushes the boundaries of the painted rectangle through her oozingly material works which reference both the black screen of modern technology and classical pictorial space.  Yet these dimensional works reek of an absence.  They are simplified in their form-content: here the artist acquires the attributes of the black mirror, turning material fetish into an existential lack.Para-Verbal Vocab-5.jpg

The object-oriented nature of these painterly works serves to assert the veracity of material existence. The works are all related through their explorations of the unknowable fluidity of darkness and light.  In this search to find the essence of form; the forms true self, these artists all show that the realization of a true self is impossible. With the painting as a surrogate self, the imagined true Self of the artist is diminished, hidden inside a complex network of material physicality, and the search for the limits of repeated form.  Instead, their paintings perform as actors within a theatre of identity; generating a vocabulary that shifts and evolves alongside themselves.

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