Annie Bielski: Strong Winds May Exist
June 12 through July 25, 2021
By AXEL BISHOP, August 2021
“It was an idle thought; there could be no possibility of distinguishing a faded flower from a fresh one, at so great a distance.” -Rappaccini’s Daughter, Nathaniel Hawthorn
In the exhibition Strong Winds May Exist, Annie Bielski seems fascinated by the balance between stable conditions and states of impermanence and vicissitude expressed through paintings in a variety of scales and including some surprising materials, in elusive depictions of figural and flower-like forms. Changes alternately slight and dramatic emerge like shifting weather patterns, becoming the basis of the surfaces that shape into what we see as painterly composition.
It is surprising to learn that the poetic phrase, ‘Strong Winds May Exist’ is authored by the Highway Department for a cautionary sign installed by the roadside. But the artist takes things like this from her surroundings and works less site-specific meanings into them, turning them into sight-specific maxims. We are part of the balance. We are on the edge of our seat with this work. The title notes that the paintings we are about to view may be ferocious, yet the potential wrath may deftly shift to the calm, charged beauty of a light breeze gently peeling fabric from skin. Environmental and emotional conditions are subject to change, ‘…without warning, for no apparent reason’. The author of this wildly proficient show is sharing her own philosophical approach; not words of caution at all, but an openness to what may come. Something powerful and elemental may show up if you are ready to be receptive to it, -or else the sad illusion of ordinary conditions will persist. A cast-off casually appearing on a curb or a temporary sign put up over an intersection have the capacity to re-form as valuable insights offered if not overlooked.
The winds bring a shiny balloon into this sphere. It is not waste snagged in a tree. It is an offering, a message that has traveled from a distant celebration, rhyming with a journeying airship just visible on the horizon. A navigator’s travel map is included here rendered in cotton, rope, pins, canvas; as a small work entitled, ‘Strong Winds May Exist’. A desultory path is affixed to the canvas by nodes punctuating the trek in colorful beaded heads of pins. This work gives the big picture of the exhibition winding its way into being. Each element installed, each painting, is represented as one of the nodes, and now we can have an expanded view into these coordinates by looking at the paintings themselves.
The titles of each artwork are attached like clues to the occurrences that have taken place at each site in the artist’s quotidian adventure. They assist in articulating the greatness of small moments, the generative heat of compost, the pathos of slow-dying flowers: many close observations of phenomena of ‘the everyday’ compounded to express the gesture of release, -of such things as an ‘applause after a turbulent flight’. Initially misread as, ‘The Applause After a Turbulent fight’, but perhaps apt in reference to the renewed respect, humbled exhaustion and electrified allure that flood the existential quiet after a passing storm. The tension of human relations: strong winds may exist. And like a laugh-track played to a quip or gag, a private round of applause might be offered after resolving a turbulent domestic dispute.
That alighted balloon is included in the gallery. Though it breaks ranks with the rest of the installation, placed high up as if it has drifted into the room on its own and become wedged into an upper corner. This differentiation puts it into another category, it is a work that makes no attempt to transform source into image, it is the source, a found object displayed like a butterfly collection on its canvas backing, so to understand something about the artist’s visual logic and territories of inspiration.
Changes play out in each work in the room. But first we can scan the field and see that there is a motif of scale-shifting that animates the installation overall. The larger works like ‘Moonflower’ or ‘Morning Glories’ read as close studies of small things expanded in examinations of microcosmos, suggesting careful observation yet documented with physical gestures not restricted by the typical controlled operations of hand-mind-device recording; rather performed in more clarion utterances to speak of the delicacy of what the eye attunes to, and to know of it differently by contradiction. We are brought near the worlds of these semi-concealed spaces like that of the burgeoning Moonflower which blooms under cover of the night and performs by the light of the moon as if invented on the grounds of the Locus Solus estate.
The larger works require taking in at a distance to behold their abstract entirety all-at-once, whereas the smaller works need us to advance, to get close in, a breath away to find the hidden stitches and twitches of materials and brushwork. We move our gaze along the paintings in their sequence of big/small, and we move forward and back as we take in each work on its own terms. The formal objects jump and pull our eye from one to the next. The depth of a painting like ‘Pile of Riches’ (riches which we now know could easily be comprised of undervalued things considered by some to be junk) extrudes out from the wall, augmented by the painted sides of the canvas noticed in adjacency …we gain insight to the surfaces and dimensionality of the work as we move away from it. And a painting on paper (‘Ampitheatre’) has its jutted hanging wings built into the drawing plane to emphasize its flatness. In fact, many of the works have novel inventions for considering display strategy as an intentional decision serving the object and its own internal tones of precarious changes.
The two-faced works that one can flip on hinges, many with contrasting palettes back-to-front, imitate searching a friend’s eyes to silently identify a subtle reaction to a situation, an indicator of what is within, a barometer. And the hinged works have us mimicking turning pages of a book, the written contents of which have been subsumed into front and back covers. This series alternates with the windows of the gallery to orient them to traditional art historic conceptions of painting panels as windows themselves. Taken in altogether this arrangement is a part of the rewriting of art history by way of the art, which has crowded out its keepers to re-emphasize looking closely at the world.
Sometimes surfaces that first look unified turn out to include multiple layers of transparent or veiling materials as in ‘Old Building’. The slow change of architectural bodies transform in ad-hoc modification or adaptive reuse. In another instance, borders turn out to be energized marks within the image in the acrylic and wax painting, ‘Twins’. We know twins look alike, so we tend to try to find difference to discern identity. Twins as alike bodies or twins as one body told in two ways. The border is just an outer area of the whole. What is predicted is still out of the frame, it may exist. Odd to think that there is such a thing as A body part, but there is symmetry in regions and there are insinuations.
Mountainous bodies. Many of the works of ‘Strong Winds’ reveal and conceal suggestive elements. Aside from titling, the author has left out her written and performed words for this show to work on purely visual terms, experimenting with how precise or ambiguous she can be with marks and forms, and how nuanced and evocative she can be in the spaces that she makes between and among these forms.
‘In The Shower’, ‘First Blush’, ‘Slow Opening’ first seem redundant to title, but then they each generously split into many possible visual readings all of which are correct of course, describing the art object itself and then not, the artwork is the thing and about it. As functional object sculptures, ‘Flower Bench I’ and ‘Flower Bench II’ play on this further. They are flower benches, but what is a flower bench? To discover the corseted crevices is to begin to know the sculptural identity of the thing. And its twin, II.
Morning Glories excel at finding structure to wrap and hoist their viny bodies. ‘Morning Glories Always Surprise Me’ allows a view of the skeleton of the painting’s structure, but never the framework of the anatomies that are suggested in the imagery which stay fixated with surfaces and movement. Morning Glories can grow so quickly you may want to sit and watch their evolving kabuki in time, but the painting captures the duration of growth action all-at-once.
Strong winds may exist, or they may not. They are spectral. This show hangs on visuality. It is an intimation of invisible forces. Attraction is the flower power, and “…needs no explanation,” as Oscar Wilde wrote. “…It is one of the great facts of the world, like sunlight, or springtime, or the reflection in the dark waters of that silver shell we call the moon.” Less certainly defined forms that appear here have their own dynamics, slightly grasped by their proximity to the flower. I watch the meteorologist standing in front of a blank screen. We can both see the map from our points of view, but we also know that there is no map there. The map exists for us as a palimpsest, a cumulative image of effects that communicate ephemeral conditions. The meteorologist narrates the predictive patterns that have been modeled to traverse the bounds of time, sweeping painterly gestures indicate the animated forces at work, the temperatures of the region. Winds moving in a northeasterly direction. A rise in pressure. May want to dress accordingly. What is the temperature in the Sandia Mountains? WM
Axel Bishop is a poet based in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Bishop lectures and writes about art and architecture, and reviews exhibitions concentrated in the Northeast United States and Canada. Recent writing has appeared in Architectural Inventions (Laurence King, UK), Cornelia Magazine (Buffalo, NY), and WTD Magazine (UAE). Image credit: Heike Storm 2019.view all articles from this author