MARGARET INGA WIATROWSKI
MIGRATORY MARKS SEPTEMBER 20 – NOVEMBER 24, 2013 CURATED BY MARY BIRMINGHAM & ERIN BROWN
VISUAL ARTS CENTER OF NEW JERSEY
IN SEARCH OF A PLACE TO WORK by Erin Brown
Early in the twentieth century, drawing underwent a dramatic transformation. As it began to shed its historical roles of communicating information or illustrating events, drawing became a direct and immediate method of expression, fueled by the rapidly changing ideological landscape of early abstraction. With an aesthetic both elemental and proletariat at its core, drawing served as a mechanism of revolutionaries in the world of art, and the world at large. While Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque churned out drawings that upset the foundations of the western aesthetic, Vasily Kamensky, Natalia Goncharova, and other Russian Futurists harnessed the immediacy of drawing to create artistsâ€™ books and illustrated manifestos that captured the tenuous thrill of a new utopia. Soon, the principles of drawing began to permeate the visual vocabulary of other mediums, informing the way painting, sculpture, and installation were made. Arshile Gorky drew bold lines that appeared unattached to the painterly, unstructured provinces of color in his paintings. Fred Sandback drew volumetric sculptures in the void with lines of polyester yarn attached to gallery floors and ceilings. Robert Smithsonâ€™s Spiral Jetty used the Great Salt Lake as the substrate for a massive, linear gesture. Line, gesture and shape came to the forefront of the page and canvas, then moved beyond it: no longer as a subservient compositional undergirding, but as vital, vocal tools in expressing energy, movement, and emotion.
Yet this search for a new support was not drawing’s first. Its previous great migration came just a century earlier, in the 1810s and ‘20s, when the English refined the mechanisms of the Hollander beater—a machine invented in 1680 in the Netherlands to create paper pulp at a rapid rate. This technology greatly increased the availability and decreased the cost of paper. Prior, hand-cast paper was a luxury often as expensive as vellum, copper or canvas; its cost limited the artist’s freedom to use it as a surface. Drawing had been restricted as a means unto itself: its scale often diminutive, its intention usually directed at another, more final work. However, as commercial papers were developed throughout the nineteenth century as a support for pastel, charcoal, or pencil, drawing came into its own as a medium, and found its home on paper.
The word migration refers to a move from one region or habitat to another, and the New Oxford American Dictionary, 3rd Edition, adds “especially in search of work.” In this sense, drawing might be considered the ultimate migrant: adaptable to an array of tools, techniques and approaches, constantly on the move, in search of a place—a medium, a surface—to work. Yet a migration doesn’t consist merely of relocation. It is a shift that often results in a profound change in consciousness and understanding. As the marks of drawing are unmoored from their home on paper, our awareness and understanding of them is questioned, examined, and sharpened. In the exhibition Migratory Marks, seven contemporary artists address such profound changes by engaging the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey’s Main Gallery in an exploration of the permutations of drawing off the page. As drawing breaks beyond the confines of the page and sheds its identity as a two-dimensional medium, new possibilities emerge. Adam Fowler’s subtle work consists of two of drawing’s most traditional elements—graphite and paper—but his ingenious process enlivens these otherwise static materials. After creating a gestural drawing, Fowler carefully removes the negative space by hand with a razor blade, freeing the marks to exist as self-contained objects. These marks are then layered atop one another, and the former negative space reveals a low-relief composition, bringing a depth to the work that could not be achieved in two dimensions. As Fowler’s striations build up, his work, created by both subtractive and additive processes, hovers between drawing and object.
In Untitled (46 Layers), Fowler allows for even more exploration of the depth of his unbound marks by eliminating a frame and installing the work directly on the gallery wall. Though the size of the piece is imposing at 120½ x 72½ inches, (the largest composition Fowler has undertaken to date), the fragility of the work in its new environs is striking. The piece appears to breathe and quiver with the air currents in the gallery. Though it leaves the work vulnerable, this exposure proves fruitful—the subtle physical movements in the layers and the shadows they cast draw the viewer’s eye to new access points in the piece, allowing for a deeper, more dynamic look into the complex beauty of the work. Chris Nau employs cutting in his process as well, but in a markedly different way—working directly into the wall, rather than on top of it. Using an amalgam of two-dimensional drawings as source material, Nau saws abstracted geometries directly into the gallery wall, then reconfigures the pieces into a series of graceful planes that protrude from and recess into the surface. The effect is almost origami-like, with volumetric, sculptural edges drawing lines and disrupting an otherwise pristine structural plane. Inhabitat XXIII transforms our notion of the wall as an extension of the page, as Nau employs it simultaneously as medium and surface for display. For some artists included in Migratory Marks, drawing beyond the page involves developing new tools for mark-making, or approaching traditional tools with fresh eyes. Joan Grubin forms the marks in Flying Grid using flaps of drawing paper and the angled shadows they cast. Composed on a grid that diminishes in scale from left to right, the piece creates the impression of a form taking flight. The image is full of what Grubin calls “perceptual ambiguity,” leaving the viewer intriguingly unclear where the drawing exists in space. “If you cannot feel in your body where something is located,” she explains, “it throws you off balance and creates a subtle, intoxicating effect. You feel something first, and then the mind can catch up and engage.” The choice to use paper to create a mark that hovers between two and three dimensions is important to the balance Grubin seeks in her work. “With paper being paper—an alive, cellular structure—the flaps have a life of their own. The piece starts with a rigor to the grid, but over time the flaps will warp and droop. The living touch comes with the paper having these irregularities. You have the satisfaction of the order, and the warmth of human flaws.” For Judith Braun, that warmth comes as she uses her body to create a human presence in her drawings. By dipping her fingers in charcoal and creating gestural marks directly on the wall,
she eliminates the need for tools altogether. With the intermediaries of paper and tool removed, the resulting gestures feel more intimate and immediate. Though the imagery is abstract, the viewer is left with a strong sense of the person who created it—symmetrical gestures the length of the artist’s arm span compose the drawing, and her fingerprints dot the composition. In this way, the work becomes a record of an individual—a physical body—that inhabited that space, made a mark, and moved on. Motion is an inherent part of migration, and the concept of a moving image is one that has fascinated artists throughout history. The earliest cave paintings often depicted animals with multiple sets of legs in various configurations to imply motion; the Victorians devised contraptions like the zoetrope and flip books to bring life to static images. The twentieth and twenty-first centuries have seen countless innovations in animation and CGI (computer-generated image) graphics. For Dannielle Tegeder, whose abstract drawings are often driven by sets of real or imagined data, digital animation became a way to represent both a visual and informational change over time. Her animations often center around fictional urban planning, as she imagines the changes in a city as it is constructed, grows and then fails. They follow shifts in transportation, aviation, and even demographics, with areas of a drawing emerging slowly, growing, burgeoning, and eventually receding, or being subsumed by another section of the work. In this way the animations allow us to see in a concrete, physical way the shape of change in an ephemeral world. The notion of impermanence plays a vital role in Margaret Inga Wiatrowski’s work. Her drawings chart the boundaries and negative spaces of physical places that have ceased to exist, or are on the verge thereof. She explains that her images capture a tenuous feeling, “[W]here there are no moments of certainty—when things feel like they change so quickly we can’t keep pace. Elements of the constructed and natural environment around us disintegrate, they’re torn down, lifted up, cleared out, built over, destroyed and continually redefined.” In Migratory Marks, Wiatrowski’s diaphanous landscapes are translated from her graphic penand-ink drawings to etched acrylic panels installed in one of the gallery’s window wells. The panels lean against each other, the window, and the floor, reflecting off one another, and casting subtle shadows that move across the gallery with the changing daylight. Wiatrowski’s imagery, drawn from sketches she made around the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey, shifts, stretches
and warps, mirroring the change occurring in the landscape outside the gallery window. Each evening as the shadows disappear, we are left, as the artist describes, with “traces of something recognizably beautiful and concrete having been there, even though you sense you’re looking at remains, leftovers, something that looks like it should be cleared away, or will soon be lost.” Esperanza Mayobre also plays with the notion of ephemerality in her delicate wall drawings. Everybody knows that cities are built to be destroyed VI appears to be drawn directly onto the wall, but is actually carefully traced carbon copies of drawings Mayobre has created for a series of installations. Though drawn from the same set of blueprints, each time Mayobre uses her source drawings the results are significantly different. As the drawings travel from place to place, they embody the migratory experience, undergoing changes both subtle and profound in each new location. However, the viewer may also affect changes in the work. Mayobre leaves a box of erasers next to the drawing, without instructions. Viewers then have to decide if and how they want to engage with the drawing. As lines and sections are erased, the shape and meaning of the piece is altered. But, as in Wiatrowski’s work, vestiges remain. Mayobre explains: “You cannot actually erase the work all the way. It is made with carbon copy, not graphite, so the lines do not disappear completely, and the impression from the pen used to trace is still in the wall… They’re just persistent in that way.” The persistence of Maybore’s lines abides in each of the works in Migratory Marks. Though vastly different in their approaches, the artists included in the exhibition each confront the conventional notions of drawing and push beyond the page as they move their work—and the medium—forward. Erin Brown is a New York-based writer and curator.
All artist quotes are from conversations or email correspondence with the author during August and September, 2013.
2013 Charcoal applied with fingers directly on wall Approximately 118 inches in diameter Courtesy of the artist
Untitled (46 Layers)
2013 Graphite on paper, hand cut 120½ x 72½ inches Courtesy of the artist and Margaret Thatcher Projects, New York, NY
2013 Acrylic on paper, shadows 51 x 98 x 3 inches Courtesy of the artist
Everybody knows that cities are built to be destroyed VI 2013 Graphite, charcoal and erasers 38Â˝ x 175 inches Courtesy of the artist
2013 Cuts on drywall 144 x 283 inches Courtesy of the artist
Geo-Chemical Sound Catastrophic Kit 2010 Digital animation 2 minutes 18 seconds Courtesy of the artist
Technical Advisement/Animation by Christine Mariani Music by junior85, “in sleepy electricity,” 2009
MARGARET INGA WIATROWSKI
Reminders & Remainders: 01 2013 Etching on acrylic Dimensions variable Courtesy of the artist
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS During the first three weeks of September the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey’s Main Gallery was transformed into a kind of laboratory for experiments in drawing. While the resulting exhibition, Migratory Marks, may appear magical, it only came about through the maximum efforts of seven extraordinary artists and a hard-working support team who all deserve my sincerest thanks. Based on our shared interest in several artists and an appreciation of art that pushes boundaries, Erin Brown and I agreed to co-curate this site-specific drawing exhibition. I am extremely grateful for her knowledge and curatorial insight, as well as the thoughtful and eloquent essay she wrote for this catalogue. I thank Greg Leshé, who undertook a weekend marathon session to photograph all of the works in time to print a catalogue. Peter Brauch, Jackie Lewis, Bruce Ranier, and Joey Rizzolo provided indispensable installation help for which we are most grateful. I thank Marion Grzesiak, Executive Director of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey for her vision and ongoing support of my efforts to expand our audience’s understanding and appreciation of contemporary art. I am most indebted to Katherine Murdock, Exhibitions Manager, and Justin Hall, Exhibitions Associate for their enthusiasm and hard work in administering all aspects of this exhibition. Kristin Maizenaski worked tirelessly to produce all of the printed materials related to our fall exhibitions, especially this catalogue. I thank Ernie Palatucci, Monica Finkel, Rupert Adams, and Leon and Mara Norris who provided assistance in the laborintensive gallery preparation required by this show. To the entire staff of the Art Center, thank you for all your hard work and dedication. I am also grateful to our Board of Trustees for their belief in and support of all that we do. Finally, to the artists of Migratory Marks I offer my heartfelt thanks for the time and energy they expended on this show. To create site-specific, ephemeral work is a challenging and time-consuming effort requiring patience and generosity—qualities shared by this group of artists. In considering their achievement I am reminded of the famous Thomas Edison quote, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” While I might argue that their inspiration certainly amounted to more than a mere one percent, I must acknowledge the incredible amount of sheer physical work they did. Thank you Judith, Adam, Joan, Esperanza, Chris, Dannielle, and Margaret for your beautiful, transformative works—they awe and inspire us. We will cherish them for the time they are here and remember fondly the joy you shared with us in their creation. Mary Birmingham Curator, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey
VISUAL ARTS CENTER OF NEW JERSEY
68 Elm Street, Summit, NJ 07901 • 908.273.9121 • www.artcenternj.org Gallery Hours Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday & Friday: 10 am – 5 pm • Thursday: 10 am – 8 pm • Saturday & Sunday: 11 am – 4 pm Photography Artwork photographed by Greg Leshé Process photographs by Kristin Maizenaski Photo of Dannielle Tegeder courtesy of +91 Foundation, New York Design by Kristin Maizenaski Printed by Luminar Solutions © 2013, Visual Arts Center of New Jersey ISBN: 978-0-925915-45-0
Major support for the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey is provided in part by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, Audrey & Zygi Wilf and the Wilf Family Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, The Horizon Foundation of New Jersey, the WJS Foundation, and Art Center members and donors. To learn more about Art Center programs, visit our website at www.artcenternj.org or call 908.273.9121.