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LAST DORENE QUINN
Cover image credit: LAST (detail), 2014, soil and mixed media binders over paper fiber and steel wire.
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LAST D o rene Quinn A u gu st 1 9 t o Oct o be r 8 , 2 0 1 4
This exhibit at Point of Contact Gallery in Syracuse, New York is made possible thanks to the generous support of The College of Arts and Sciences, the Coalition of Museums and Art Centers at Syracuse University, and the New York State Council on the Arts.
Pablo Neruda Ronca es la americana cordillera, nevada, hirsuta y dura, planetaria: allĂ yace el azul de los azules, el azul soledad, azul secreto, el nido del azul, el lapislĂĄzuli, el azul esqueleto de mi patria. Arde la mecha, crece el estallido y se desgrana el pecho de la piedra: sobre la dinamita es tierno el humo y bajo el humo la osamenta azul, los terrones de piedra ultramarina. Oh catedral de azules enterrados, sacudimiento de cristal azul, ojo de mar cubierto por la nieve otra vez a la luz vuelves del agua, al dĂa, a la piel clara del espacio, al cielo azul vuelve el terrestre azul.
From Stones of the Sky/Las piedras del cielo, by Pablo Neruda (Copper Canyon Press, 2002, trans. James Nolan, 1987)
Pablo Neruda Translated by James Nolan
Snow-peaked, shaggy and solid, the American mountain range is harsh, desolate as a planet: here the blue of blues lies buried, the blue solitude, azure secret, the blue nursery of lapis lazuli, the blue skeleton of my homeland. The wick sizzles, the blast booms and the breast of rock is threshed: above the dynamite is a wisp of smoke and under the smoke the blue bones, the mounds of ultramarine stone. Oh cathedral of catacombed blues, jolting of blue crystal, eye of the sea lidded with snow blinks open again from water to light, to day, to clear skin of space, and blue earth comes home to blue heaven.
The Last of Follies: The Art of Dorene Quinn Nancy Keefe Rhodes
Certainly Dorene Quinn’s new exhibition at Point of Contact Gallery is about the urgent dangers of climate change but also, more deeply and occurring to one perhaps like an after-image, questions about the role of the artist. Within this general observation, tensions abound. This begins, of course, with her paradoxical title itself, whose often sharply contradictory synonyms and associations range from final, only and almost over to what remains and endures. (After all, languages too are dying at a rapid clip.) Using elements of the natural world as both subject and medium, Quinn probes our often ragged, even severed relationship to the earth in ways elegiac, witty and yearning. Unsurprisingly, Quinn cites the work of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, especially his 1970 volume, Stones of the Sky/Las piedras del cielo (of which "XX," in James Nolan’s translation, appears in this catalog), as a source of her own inspiration as well as a key to her work. Quinn has also pioneered synthetic materials such as the acrylic medium that holds together what she calls the “dirt lace” body of the exhibition’s title piece, an amalgam mixed with real dirt and sprayed, stucco-like, on top of the wet paper fiber coating a substrate of molded chicken wire. This she developed last summer during a month-long residency at the Golden Artists Paint Foundation, an hour’s drive from Syracuse east on Route 80 in New Berlin. Speaking in late June about Quinn’s time there, with the 2013 residency exhibition still up in his SAGG Gallery, Mark Golden recalled that Quinn stood out: “She was so willing to try new stuff, to just play, and it encourages me just to be around someone like that.”
This exhibition comprises three new works (besides the title piece, Underland in the windows gallery facing the street, and Breathe, a time-lapse video installation in the small back gallery called “the vault,” which Quinn began this past May during a month’s residency at Willapa Bay AIR on the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington State), as well as a 2012 work, Joshua Tree, and documentation of work from 2006 forward. At 10 X 14 feet, the titular Last towers massively over the main gallery. It took four people and a hydraulic lift two days to install it once Quinn delivered it, rolled up like an Oriental carpet from which you might expect Cleopatra to tumble. Besides its sheer size, it has a lacey elegance and what resemble runs in a woman’s stockings to remind us how delicate is nature’s balance. Quinn has cut out the word “L A S T” from the center of the piece and crafted box-like, threedimensional letters that rest alone on a shelf on the right-hand entrance wall of the gallery. She devised similar geometric, cage-like enclosures at Golden’s for preliminary tree-root pieces (and elsewhere has played with geometric shapes by molding mud into perfect cannon-ball-sized spheres, left piled in a rotted tree stump). Visible outside, where it faces West Fayette Street, the pocket “windows gallery” displays a second new piece, Underland. Lit from below and hanging before a dark brown backdrop, Underland is a simulated fibrous root system with clinging dirt, stained in bands of intense color. Red and yellow are pigments used in paint-making; and here, ultramarine substitutes for
the mineral Lapis Lazuli, another classic and quite rare pigment, its color representing the acquifer with water being the most precious element. Quinn says Underland is a response to hydraulic fracturing – that the “underland is a normally unseen, mysterious place, again, vulnerable to human destruction.” Underland echoes Neruda’s poem, in its suggestion that the earth is lit from within, as well as its Lapis Lazuli references. The piece also owes much to Maya Lin’s recent work with topographies of bodies of water and negative space, creating sculptures that reveal what we’d see if the earth were transparent. For Breathe, Quinn set up her camera facing the estuary at Willapa Bay for an eighteen-and-a-half hour period from sunrise to sunset, during which she made more than 7,000 images of the tides. Now compressed to 170 images looping every 60 seconds, with the frame cropped to eliminate much of the overly dramatic sky above the horizon, Breathe offers us the tender magnificence of this estuary, where nine rivers converge with the Pacific, “breathing” its tides in and out. It’s not Quinn’s first move toward animation – in 2004 she made This Moment, a photo composite of a lake’s disturbed surface mounted on a rippling aluminum sheet which suggested animation, exhibited
in Albany in 2006, and has worked on a couple other video projects – and let us hope not her last. Also in the main gallery is Joshua Tree Restoration Project (2012), made from pieces of bark of a single standing dead Joshua tree collected during her six-weeks residency at Joshua Tree, California, in 2010. Quinn backed the bark pieces with cotton mesh and stitched them back together in what she calls a “patched skeleton, a ghost of a living tree.” Quinn notes these trees only grow an inch or so annually in a few fragile ecosystems and likely won’t survive climate change. Wisely taking advantage of the enormous vaulted ceiling, the gallery has given this piece sufficient space so it really does seem alone, standing 14 feet high with a varying diameter (24 inches at the widest point), steadied by a tether to the ceiling. Finally, the vault contains photo documentation of somewhat older work, from 2006 on: among them, Portable Forest Floor (2008) from Quinn’s residency at the Constance Saltonstall Foundation in Ithaca; the circular, 22-foot wide, ever-changing performance and mark-making space titled Arena (2010) in the Mojave Desert, and the remarkable
Tree Skin, made during a residency over the fall and winter of 2006-07 at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology located in a Sitka spruce rain forest on Cascade Head Trail near the Oregon coast. Many visitors may recognize Tree Skin with its figure cloaked in a blanket of bark pieces, crouching at the base of an ancient tree with part of one bare foot peeking out. This image graced the cover of the 2010 issue of Stone Canoe Journal. I will come back to Tree Skin, which was my own first introduction to Quinn’s work and which has only expanded over time in my estimation. Quinn possesses great skills in execution. It was the fine cabinetry-like workmanship of the inlaid plywood piece, Knot Restoration Project (2009), that first snagged Point of Contact managing director Miranda Traudt’s attention when she was still at Auburn’s Schweinfurth Art Center. And upon visiting Quinn’s studio on West Fayette Street I first glimpsed her startling draughtsmanship in cutouts of water color sketches of sites, prep pieces tacked up on the wall. (I’ve remained charmed by a sculptural “sketch” there too, which apparently has no other life ahead of it beyond the shelf it sits on – a maybe eight-inch square object made of burdocks that retains the shape of the box she brought them home in.) Yet Quinn repeatedly calls attention to her pieces as “imperfect” (as in “memorials to nature”) and “imitative” (as in “representations”), both to direct us back to the real thing and to highlight that our late awakening to our place in the scheme of things may make any efforts at repair futile. “We turn nature into ‘landscape,’” says Yvonne Buchanan, the artist and film-maker with whom Quinn co-directs The Talent Agency, a preparatory intensive program for inner city young people who aspire to professional art careers, located in another corner of the cavernous former warehouse that houses Quinn’s studio. Buchanan, who also edited the final version of Breathe, continues, “For a human
being to try to resurrect nature – it’s incredibly laborintensive. It’s almost a folly. It may not be possible, but it’s the desire to do it that matters.” Quinn is a gatherer of found and natural objects and materials collected during daily meditative walks, whether at home in her Westside neighborhood or on site in a residency. In this she nods to a generation of land and “walking artists” born in the mid-20th century who include Richard Long, Hamish Fulton and David Nash (all of Britain), Italian forest artist Giuseppe Penone, German pollen-gatherer Wolfgang Laib, and the Ghanian sculptor El Anatsui (known as the
“master of scrap”), as well as “performance sculptors” like the Houston-based Mel Chin and the late Cuban-born Ana Mendieta, whose “earth-body art” included photographing herself variously as dripping in mud, blood and feathers, or with gender-stretching glued-on facial hair. Quinn also thinks highly of her own contemporaries such as artist Andrea Zittel, based in Joshua Tree, California, and the transplanted New Yorker, Sanford Biggers. Allen Kaprow’s “The Real Experiment” (1983) has long been a guiding core text for Quinn on her excursions. Found in his collection, Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life (ed. Jeff Kelley, 1993), this piece is Kaprow’s lively account of what he calls the two avant-garde histories of Western art: “artlike art” (specialized, separate from life and bound by well-known conventions and frames of mind), and the more process-oriented, generalist and sometimes ephemeral “lifelike art,” which seeks to integrate art into a seamless fabric of reality. Kaprow eventually rescues art from this split by recalling now submerged, more ancient notions of art as gift and calling, and artist as seer. It is unlikely that Quinn would call herself a “religious artist.” But her concerns, her subjects and her practice all speak to the dangerous disconnections in modern culture that Kaprow and others saw in 1983. Of all the integrative roles art can play, wrote Kaprow, “none is so crucial to our survival as a species as the one that serves self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is where you start on the way to becoming ‘the whole’….” The failure to address climate change is perhaps the most engulfing consequence of our radical self-ignorance and separation. Yet another tension arises: for all the urgency we face as a species, Quinn is not in any hurry in her own practice. She describes the necessary pace of her typical projects – a year or two – with a smile, as “geologic time.” In her note about Tree Skin as cover image for Stone Canoe Journal’s 2010 issue, Quinn says she began collecting the scales of Sitka spruce bark, which the trees shed copiously, because she was “initially attracted to the colors, textures
and shapes.” Only later, she goes on – you will find this same pull in Neruda – did “associations of skin, both human and tree, begin to form for me, along with a powerful desire to merge with this natural world.” For at least twenty years now, the Boston-based Dutch psychiatrist, Bessel van der Kolk, has used Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (late 1500s and perhaps even a copy by one of his students) to open his lectures and travelling seminars on trauma by illustrating what trauma is in a social context. Interestingly his take on the painting twenty years ago has evolved. As told by the poet Ovid, the myth of Icarus and his father Daedalus concerned how Icarus flew on wings made of feathers and wax
but, so preoccupied by the sun’s beauty, ignored his father’s warnings, flew too close to the sun and fell to his death in the sea. Van der Kolk’s message in the mid-90s was that traumatized people see only with tunnel vision although all of life is really still going on around them. He said the aim of treating trauma wasn’t to erase horrible events or conditions but to restore balance, remind us that bad things are only a small part of life – hence the wide, curving rim of horizon in the painting, the ships at sea and the city across the bay, the fisherman at the shore, the farmer plowing his field with oxen, the shepherd with his flock. In the larger picture, all we see of Icarus is one tiny foot sticking up from the waves. Now van der Kolk talks less about the ability of the larger social context to absorb and integrate all experience, more about today’s communities becoming too strained and too easily inured to the suffering of others – whether people, species, or whole habitats – and unable to see it concerns them. Lately I have begun to notice that Quinn’s Tree Skin, which I have always found compelling, also reminds me of this other, much older painting. I should add here that Quinn, who has served on university-level art faculties for years, would know of, but did not make Tree Skin as any intentional homage to, The Fall of Icarus. But both works are about separation, actual and perceptual – amputated experience, really – and what deep injury ensues from that, and both images are doing the same work of offering a vision, albeit imperfect, of returning to the whole. Nancy Keefe Rhodes is an independent writer, editor and curator whose work covers film, photo and visual arts. She is editor of the Moving Images section of Stone Canoe Journal Online, teaches Film History and Culture in Transmedia at Syracuse University, and sits on the Syracuse Public Arts Commission. She graduated from the Goldring Arts Journalism Masters Program at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication/Syracuse University in 2005.
ARTIST STATEMENT The dual meaning of the word “last” is the genesis of my current work. I am engaging with much of humanity in an act of counting down, last one of species, last fateful decades of rising temperatures, last chance to contain the damage, perhaps the last of generations on a world that is familiar and sustaining. More hopefully “last” is an entreaty, a call to make this “last,” for the diversity of species to continue, and for this garden that is our inheritance to tend, to remain. In working through visual form and diverse materials and sites, I create imperfect simulacra, memorials to nature and our relationship to the earth. The imperfection and artificiality of the works reflect the futility in acting too late, to repair or preserve. When visiting or working in fragile environments, I am aware that my experience and presence are in conflict with the hope that these places can remain. That resistance creates the conundrum that sparks the work. Being human is awkward, and it is awesome to be among those whose choices determine the future.
ARTIST BIOGRAPHY Dorene Quinn was born in Portland Oregon and has a Bachelor of Fine Art in Printmaking and painting from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland Oregon, and a Master of Fine Art in Sculpture from the New York State College of Art and Design at Alfred University in Alfred, NY. She maintains an active studio practice in Syracuse, NY, exhibiting in solo and group shows in galleries and museums throughout New York State and nationally, including The Everson Museum, The Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute, The University Museum, Albany, NY, the Schenectady Museum, The Schweinfurth Art Center, The Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, and Binghamton University. She has been honored with grants and awards for her work Including a New York Foundation for the Arts MARK Fellowship, and a NYSCA Special Opportunity Stipend Grant, and has received fellowships for artist residencies at the Julia and David White Artist Colony in Costa Rica, the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology in Oregon, The Saltonstall Foundation, Ithaca NY, Joshua Tree Highlands Artist Residency program in Joshua Tree California, the Sam and Adele Golden Foundation in New Berlin, NY, and Willapa Bay AIR, in Oysterville, Washington. In 2010, Quinn left her full time position as professor of sculpture for the Upstate campus of Pratt Institute in Utica, NY, to found a not-for-profit educational program for inner city teens to gain access to college art and design programs. She teaches sculpture at Syracuse University and teaches in, and administers Talent Agency Teen Art Portfolio Development Program. See Quinnâ€™s work and a link to her teen project at www.dorenequinn.com.
Image Credits: (In order of appearance)
Rogue Cells, 2010, temporary site-specific intervention, Mohave Desert, Joshua Tree, California (image by Nancy Floyd) LAST, 2014, soil and mixed media binders over paper fiber and steel wire LAST, 2014, soil and mixed media binders over paper fiber and steel wire, welded steel armature,
acrylic paint Underland, 2013-14, soil and mixed media over paper fiber and steel wire, adhesive and pure pigments Joshua Tree Restoration, 2010-2012, Joshua tree bark, silicone adhesive, cotton mesh, paper, thread Tree Skin, 2006-2007, temporary site-specific intervention, Cascade Head Nature Conservancy Preserve, Otis, OR (image by Jack Doyle) Breathe, 2014, time-lapse video installation, Willapa Bay Estuary, Long Island Peninsula, WA (assistance from Kevin Doyle, Willapa Bay AIR, editing by Yvonne Buchanan)
Special Thanks: Alexis Belt & Anthony Griffen
exhibition preparation & studio assistance
artist, partner, & collaborator
for permission to use his translation of Neruda
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Staff: Pedro Cuperman artistic director
Rainer Wehner preparator
Landon Perkins Lorena Rengel Shelby Zink Gallery Assistants
Executive Director Cultural Engagement College of Arts and Sciences Syracuse University
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