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Kaylin Andres at Jenn Singer, New York

Kaylin Andres, "Viaticum VII" (2015-2016), pigment on silk organza and stretched felt, 29 in × 20 in (edition of 3)

KAYLIN ANDRES: Viaticum
Jenn Singer Gallery
June 4 - June 30, 2016

By DANIEL MAIDMAN, JUN. 2016 

A standing woman, young and slender. Many of her details are obscured, but the light catches her naked hip and waist, demonstrating that she is shaped just as we imagine a woman to be shaped, when we think of the idea of a woman. She is as symmetrical and demonstrative of the thought of the human as the Vitruvian man.

Moving back from this central fact, this idealized woman, the artwork obscures her in layer after layer. First there is the framing, which hides her face. Then there is the silk organza draped over her, which resembles both a wedding veil and a death shroud. She stands barefoot in the obscuring gloom of a lush forest.

This much we can perceive in the photograph. Further layers of obscurity can only be appreciated in person. The photograph itself is printed onto silk organza, a filmy material that flutters in the slightest breeze. It is scarcely able to hold the image, losing the brightest brights of the photograph, and the darkest darks. What becomes of the image, compressed into middle values, its edges sharp but interior volumes indistinct? It has a quality like a memory that is fading. What happened can still be remembered, but how it seemed at the time is already gone.

The organza itself hangs in front of stretched grey felt, apparently cut from some sort of emergency blanket. This history of the felt echoes its symbolism for Andres’s hero, Beuys, who claimed to have been wrapped in such felt by the Tartars who rescued him from his crashed plane and the cold in 1943. But that’s not how it appears to me. There is something horrible to Beuy’s dark grey felt, and to Andres’s use of it. It looks to me like death: thick, cloying, detailed but featureless, heavy and all-absorbing. It is death that is waiting, only half-hidden, behind the flimsy image of Kaylin Andres, naked and alive, in a primeval forest.

What an intricate dance of hiding and revealing this artwork is: is it the image that is the key, against which all obscurations must be measured, or is it the awful felt? Life or death?

Consider one more layer of obscuration. Andres, who so resembles in this image the idea of a woman, owes much of her beauty to something that her sleek lines are hiding. She is being devoured by cancer. Even among the cancers, there are better and worse ones, and hers, Ewing’s Sarcoma, is one of the worst. It hides in the bones, but it spits cells throughout the body, seeding tumors wherever they land. Andres is currently terminal. She will not survive this cancer.

Let us ponder "Viaticum VII" from a human angle then. Imagine an artist — imagine yourself — with only enough time to make a very small amount of work. Your life and activities, by necessity, revolve around a rare and fatal condition. It has made your body into a beautiful shell just barely containing a soup of mess and poison. Your mind and soul are intact, but their operations and growth are modified by unending pain, by a disease that is stealing your energy and your future.

There are several ways to attack the problem of art in the context of this overbearing condition. The solution Andres has found is to aim straight for the perfect image. Each truth has at least one image perfectly adapted to its expression. I do not believe that anyone creates these images. Rather, they lie latent in the nature of being. One cannot create the image, but one can discover it. Andres, informed by her condition and ideas, reached out into the vast darkness of unexpressed images, and a perfect image of her condition and ideas reached back to her. They grasped one another’s hands, and she coaxed it from that blind dream world into our own.

Other artists will have the opportunity to make larger bodies of work, and to develop their images with more resources over longer periods. Andres has only one chance, right now, to make the work that will justify her life as an artist, which is to say, as an adult contributor to the vast wealth of human culture and wisdom. This is her single opportunity to make sense of her suffering in a way that binds her to others, that outlasts her frail vessel. It is a high-stakes test of moral and aesthetic capacity. She has only the one chance — but she’s gotten it right. WM

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"Viaticum VII" is one of several pieces, some similar and others quite different, in the solo show “KAYLIN ANDRES: Viaticum.”

Daniel Maidman

Daniel Maidman is a painter and writer. His art is included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art, as well as numerous private collections, among them those of New York Magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz, Chicago collector Howard Tullman, Disney senior vice president Jackson George, and Gemini-winning screenwriter Jeremy Boxen. He has produced paintings in collaboration with best-selling novelist China Miéville, award-winning poet Kathleen Rooney, independent film icon Martin Donovan, and noted installation artist Erika Johnson. Maidman’s art and writing on art have been featured in ARTnews, Forbes, Juxtapoz, Whitehot Magazine, Hyperallergic, American Art Collector, International Artist, Poets/Artists, MAKE, Manifest, and The Artist’s Magazine. He blogs for The Huffington Post. He lives and paints in Brooklyn, New York.

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