Lisa Anne Auerbach: Spells
Gavlak Gallery, Los Angeles
September 13 to October 18, 2014
By MEGAN ABRAHAMS, NOV. 2014
The impact of words can be stark, appearing conventionally in black on white, text sharply focused in crisp definition. Meanings are typically unequivocal, messages unambiguous, and contrast between idiom and medium (page, wall, canvas) pronounced. Then there are knitted words, as presented in the work of artist Lisa Anne Auerbach. In her exhibition, Spells, at the recently opened Gavlak Gallery, words are preeminent. Combined as book titles, phrases and witticisms, and often in the form of hashtags, Auerbach has rendered words (and cats) in knitted merino wool on stretched linen, and in sweater suits displayed on compliant mannequins modeled on herself, posing strategically like visitors about the gallery. As it happens, the silhouettes of knitted letters are not so crisp and clear. Softer in focus, the meaning of knitted words becomes more nuanced as well. Less apparently declarative, knitted words are fuzzy, their denotation softened by the texture of the yarn and all its wooly associations.
With deceptive two-dimensional simplicity, Spells, (2014, Merino stitched onto stretched linen, 26 x 24 in) represents the façade of two bookshelves lined with the spines of books. The titles vary, from The New Tarot, Handspinning, and Spells and The Occult in Art, to The Opinionated Knitter and The Tao of Miaow. The book facsimiles pop out from a background of grainy black and white, a thin purple border along the bottom for definition. Threads of wool dangle from the bottom right corner. The bookcase theme continues in two much larger pieces. One of these, The Natural World, (2014, Knitted wool on linen, 80 x 63 in) is organized by topic, with classic book titles like Lolita interspersed with titles like Freud for Beginners, Silent Miaow and Everyone Poops. All the titles in the bookshelf pieces represent real books belonging to Auerbach. Cat-themed “bookends” appear here and there on the shelves.
Posed nearby is a mannequin dressed in the work Journal Pants, Black Sheep Sweater, (2014, mannequin with merino wool, 60 x 12 x 24 in). The black and white sweater incorporates subtle lines of cryptic text on concentric bands, like “Sheep Night Oil, Filth, Taste the Dirt when Black.” As the bands circle around the body of the sweater, it’s not clear where the phrases begin and end. The Journal Pants are a pair of rainbow-hued flared sweater-leggings fashioned with bands of bright color, patterned in repeated symbols, such as circles, the female symbol, birds and bicycles. Another version of a sweater appears in Bad Ideas, (2014, knitted wool on linen, 26 x 24 in). Here, a sweater is depicted as an asymmetrical subject on a rectangular patterned background. The lettering on the sweater -- Bad ideas are better than no ideas -- is quietly provocative and rather debatable.
In #HASHINGITOUT, (2014, knitted wool on linen, 80 x 63 in) Auerbach parodies the ubiquitous social media phenomenon, stacking hashtags in horizontal and diagonal rectangles across the surface, such as: #NATURALLYADISASTER #MYPUSSYSPUSSY #LUCKY13 and #SEASONOFTHEWHICH. Wooly wordplay at its finest, this piece is composed solely of hashtags, text alone highlighting the punnery delights, in black and white with a red border. Several pieces derive from the artist’s apparent devotion to cats. In, Cats Make it All OK, (2014, merino wool stitched onto stretched linen, 20 x 26 in) a cat is depicted surrounded by amusing feline-related hashtags, like: #CATSDON’TJUDGE, #KITTYLUV #THESILENTMIAOW and #PUSSYGALORE. The kitty’s fur is patterned like a sweater. During the opening, a black and white cat roamed through the gallery, accepting admiration from the crowd. Auerbach and the cat posed together for photographs.
Displayed on one wall is a series of small gouache paintings on bright backgrounds with contrasting colors. Abstractions, these are studies or offshoots derived from the knitted patterns. It would be intriguing to see more of the paintings on a larger scale. In one of them, Drunken Norwegian, (2014, gouache on paper, 30 X 22 in) Auerbach extrapolates the precise dot pattern from a traditional sweater. A section of the gallery is devoted to the artist’s American Magazine Project # 1 and #2, (both 2014, 24-page inkjet printed, custom staple-bound) her astonishing still photography survey documenting American megachurches. On the night of the opening, two female attendants stood by, turning the pages of the large format magazines for viewers.
The North Gallery is devoted to Torn Porn, blown-up and re-contextualized fragments of damaged photos from a discarded bondage magazine found by the artist in an airport parking structure 20 years ago. In keeping with the pornographic theme, nearby is, Oops! I did it again (2014, mannequin with merino wool, 60 x 12 x 24 in). This black and white sweater outfit has knit pants patterned with a garter belt and fishnet stockings.The words, WORK BITCH are knitted on the buttocks of the Britney Spears mannequin, which gazes, in a blankly proprietary and possibly wistful way, at the enlarged low-resolution photos on the wall. She seems to consider the magnified grainy pixels, mildew and stains, as if contemplating how they add texture and grit to already gritty subjects.
Created on large knitting machines in Auerbach’s studio, in her knitted pieces she has invented an alternate medium for the printed word. Among the themes and phrases used here, some were extrapolated from the artist’s recorded meetings with psychics. Themes and subjects aside, it is important to acknowledge the refinement of her process. Her work is impeccably conceived and realized; polished, despite the fuzzy surfaces. Of all the book titles, The Opinionated Knitter stands out, clearly an auto-biographical reference. Of course, Auerbach is much more than that. However soft the merino wool with which her words are knitted, the wittiness does not prevent the artist from delving into serious subjects and successfully broaching them in a playful, imaginative and compelling way. The varied unexpected themes Auerbach investigates are a point of departure for an engaging multi-leveled discourse. Beneath the clever and attractive veneer of her work, is an insightful commentary on social issues, along with a loving tribute to cats.
Megan Abrahams is a Los Angeles-based writer and artist. The managing editor of Fabrik Magazine, she is also a contributing art critic for Art Ltd., Fabrik, ArtPulse and Whitehot magazines. Megan attended art school in Canada and France. She is currently writing her first novel and working on a new series of paintings.
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