of rope and chain her bones are made
May 1 through July 31, 2021
By LITA BARRIE, May 2021
The meaning of art resides in the making and the materials. When the human touch of handmaking is based on an acceptance of imperfection as the natural chance outcome of working with organic materials, then art is more authentic and life-like because it is unpremeditated. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi celebrates moments of imperfection and transience seen in the natural beauty of irregularity, impermanence and incompletion. Wabi-sabi in Japanese arts nurtures the Zen philosophy: nothing is finished, nothing lasts and nothing is perfect. Women artists have changed the language of western sculpture since the postwar period by accepting the chance occurrences of handmaking; whether or not they were cognizant of the wabi-sabi aesthetic, they arrived at a similar understanding and appreciation of flawed beauty intuitively.
In the 1960s, the influence of feminism and post-minimalism gave women the courage to turn away from the dominant masculinist language and reject the notion of a monolithic masterwork. By embracing the idiosyncrasies of the artist’s hand in abstract forms that use repetition, stacking, hanging and intertwining with tactile, found and recycled materials, legendary sculptors like Ruth Asawa, Eva Hesse and Louise Bourgeoise pioneered a no-going-backwards path for subsequent generations.
With a history of radical feminist art, L.A. is a conducive environment for women artists to pursue the legacy of studio-based sculpture. In 2016, the inaugural exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles - co-curated by Paul Schimmel and Jenni Sorkin - was the most ambitious historic survey of sculpture from female artists: Revolution in the Making: Abstract Sculpture by Women 1947-2016. Coinciding with this momentous exhibition that featured 100 works, almost 1,000 L.A. women artists and art professionals gathered within the gallery’s outdoor courtyard for the photo shoot Now Be Here, which provided a unique opportunity to build new female networks and support structures. This historic event, organized by Kim Schoenstadt and Aandrea Stang, had an enormous impact which continues to influence the course of L.A. womens’ art today.
This sensitively calibrated exhibition curated by Craig Krull takes its title from a line in Shakespeare: of rope and chains her bones were made. Several throughlines connect the shared themes, organic materials and methods of handmaking. These women artists have turned their backs on mass production in our technological era of plastic fantastic to quietly make process-oriented artworks that celebrate handmaking techniques like cutting, stitching, patterning, layering, stacking, gouging and rhythmic repetitions that are primarily tactile and undertaken in the privacy of an artist’s studio. These modest works do not demand attention like monumental artwork, but gently coax the viewer to find their own way to interpret the imperfect nuances of handmade organic abstractions. As Diane Silver told me, “making works by hand, you see mistakes and repair as you do it. This lack of preciousness makes it far more precious.” Her unglazed bone ceramic Bibliotheca resembles scrolls, reflecting Silver’s interest in the way information is encoded in everything from bones to archaeology to DNA to religion and to diaries. These scrolls are tied together by rope with silver ends, which falls to the ground. Alternatively, Claudia Parducci has created heavy ropes from cold cast resin mixed with iron filings; these are based on her line drawings of ambiguous lifelines, which play on the paradox of the material she uses.
A second throughline in this exhibition is a nautical theme which evolves naturally from living alongside the Southern California coastline. Brittany Mojo’s chains made from clay (Marina Marinara, 2019) are a whimsical take on anchorage which transforms a functional form into an assiduously crafted and cohesive piece to make a play on strength and fragility. Taylor Kibby’s loosely structured mounds of ceramic chain-links also play with this same form to explore shape-shifting dynamics; these change from standing upright to drooping and sprawling. Diane Silver also uses chains to suspend ceramic balls with protruding globular surfaces that recall coral and other forms of symbiotic marine life. Blue McRight’s hanging baskets are a nod to Ruth Asawa’s iconic hanging baskets, but with the new twist of red spines that reference see-through fish membranes - an environmental statement about plastic pollution of oceans.
A third throughline in this exhibition is the use of repetition to create organic, abstract patterns. Lavaille Campbell’s sculpture NB Series (with peas) uses thousands of black-eyed peas protruding from a mound of ceramic baby bottle nipples referencing her fight with cancer. Her textile works, like Christy Matson’s skin-like use of patched and stitched fabric in Fourwing Primrose Variations, Sydney Croskery’s geological Light and Land (Abstraction 030), and Pamela Smith Hudson’s encaustic collage 1619 1916 have a rhythmic quality which suggests cyclical changes and unity in the natural order of things. These organic patterns are a reflection of geographic place because they have an oceanic wave-like quality which can be seen in art made around the Pacific Rim - tracing back to ancient Polynesian art, particularly the Maori art I grew up with in New Zealand.
This unpretentious exhibition is a reminder of the aesthetics of quietude which is imbued in artworks made in solitude. Although the work in this exhibition clearly builds on the legacy of women’s sculpture and the networks extending from the L.A. female artist community, it is not the overtly feminist art one would expect. These ambiguous biomorphic forms, which can be simultaneously phallic and breast-like, are more genderfluid in step with the non-binary politics of our time. If there is a political subtext in this exhibition, it is that handcrafted art - like all handcrafted product - is a symbolic stance against mass production of generic, factory-made objects - which includes fabricated brand art. WM
Lita Barrie is a freelance art critic based in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in Hyperallergic, Riot Material, Apricota Journal, Painter’s Table, ArtnowLA, HuffPost, Painter’s Table, Artweek.L.A, art ltd and Art Agenda. In the 90s Barrie wrote for Artspace, Art Issues, Artweek, Visions andVernacular. She was born in New Zealand where she wrote a weekly newspaper art column for the New Zealand National Business Review and contributed to The Listener, Art New Zealand, AGMANZ, ANTIC, Sites and Landfall. She also conducted live interviews with artists for Radio New Zealand’s Access Radio. Barrie has written numerous essays for art gallery and museum catalogs including: Barbara Kruger (National Art Gallery New Zealand) and Roland Reiss ( Cal State University Fullerton). Barrie taught aesthetic philosophy at Claremont Graduate University, Art Center and Otis School of Art and Design. In New Zealand, Barrie was awarded three Queen Elizabeth 11 Arts Council grants and a Harkness grant for art criticism. Her feminist interventions are discussed in The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand and an archive of her writing is held in The New Zealand National Library, Te Puna Matauranga Aotearoa.view all articles from this author