Front cover: Brokeade #1, detail Works of art © 2018 Lisa Kokin. All rights reserved. No written portion of this publication may be reproduced, for any reason, by any means, including any method of photographic reproduction, without the written permission of the author. All inquiries regarding the text should be directed to the author. Essay © 2018 Renny Pritikin. No artwork may be reproduced in part or in whole without the written permission of the publisher. Design & Photography © 2018 Lia Roozendaal Photography, El Sobrante, CA email@example.com Published by Lisa Kokin and Seager Gray Gallery www.lisakokin.com
"I like money in its shredded state because it is stripped of value and power. Worthless, it becomes just so much green and white confetti. It is literally not worth the paper itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s printed on." â&#x20AC;&#x201D;Lisa Kokin
LISA KOKIN Essay by Renny Pritikin
SEAGER GRAY GALLERY April 3 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; May 1, 2018
On Limited Palettes
Lucre, Lisa Kokin’s new body of work, is made of shredded bills ordered online from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. It is likely that paper money will someday soon join the ranks of familiar material culture objects that disappear before one notices it, like fedoras and phone booths. This imminent lack echoes the artist’s choice to make a suite of objects that ever so subtly addresses the widening gap in this country between those few who have most of the wealth, and those many who do not.
Kokin sorts her bundles of shreds—which arrive either as long strings or in more blunt confetti-style shapes—into four basic colors (black, black and white, white, and green), and then brings her state of the art Bernina sewing machine to bear, fashioning art that suggests such quotidian phenomena as chain link fences, quilts, green bricks or tarpaper shingles (in (De)portable), but most particularly, and evocatively, tatters of found, seemingly
long-neglected fabric. Colorcoordinated metallic thread provides a mostly-hidden substructure, and the whole incredibly labor-intensive and complex assemblage is constructed sandwiched between two sheets of water-soluble stabilizer that eventually are melted away. The product is a fairly stiff, self-supporting if frail, larger or smaller twodimensional expanse. These works are shown mounted on the wall with no visible support or frame (save a few rare exceptions). Kokin is a master who has been making art involving sewing, fabric and the like since well before the turn of the century. Such work requires long hours of both planning and execution, often to the extent that they become meditative, almost trance-inducing disciplines. Lucre has been built exactly in that way. The result is elegant and utterly resolved, deliciously satisfying in its formal completeness.
The individual titles are almost always punning references to social issues or money-inspired financial ironies in our society, such as Brokeade #2 and Love My Tender. Playing with language is a long Bay Area tradition that goes back at least to William Wiley and Robert Arneson of UC Davis’s Funk style. The term “lucre” usually isn’t invoked without its partner, “filthy.” This elision by Kokin hints at a parallel agenda in her project. The viewer encounters an inherent tension in the body of work: what appears to be an exhibition researching the formal possibilities of cut-up cash is meant at the same time to engage with contemporary political critique. The work flips back and forth like the figure-ground optical illusion of “do you see a jug or a profile?” The visitor may think “Gee that’s a lovely piece,” only to realize that its title, Beyond the Pale, is a reference to demagogues building fences between nations. (On a further level, it also invokes the artist’s Jewish heritage as the Pale was the part of 19th century Poland/Russia/Ukraine where Jews were not permitted to live).
The sculpture Beyond the Pale is one of the two largest in the show (measuring about four feet by five). It suggests a section of chain link fence, its sliced and sewn dollars forming diamond shapes, under which can be seen silver thread dividing each diamond into quarters; the eye also sees each diamond floating over four silver metallic thread squares, another instance of multiple ways to see invoked throughout these works. The color of the piece can be seen to waver from green to grey to creamy off white and even yellow, with shadows on the wall adding an additional complexity. The evanescence of color throughout—now you see it now you don’t—can be understood as a metaphor for how the political implications of everyday systems, structures and objects that we encounter also can be a confusing fog of information. Yet the failure to make those connections can prevent us from informed perception of political reality.
The title of the second largest piece, Cold Comforter (more than five feet tall and over a yard wide), double puns on the word comforter, or blanket, and the idiom â&#x20AC;&#x153;[money] is cold comfort.â&#x20AC;? It is a minimalist tour de force composed of thousands of papery cells built up to form a coherent whole that is mostly gray contrasted with the white wall beyond, with episodes of reddish brown and other subtle blue and yellowish shades, augmented by colored thread. A blanket full of holes is cold comfort, as is a compromised social safety net.
Also on view are medium-sized and smaller works that often refer explicitly to fabric. Pieces such as Deficit and Attachment Disorder are based on fairly open designs that leave space between gridded sections, but also appear in spots to have been worn away over time, or perhaps by insects. Love My Tender, a smaller example of this group, believably could be taken for an exquisite archeological remnant. Another set of works is made leaving no internal air at all and forms assertive, no nonsense solids that suggest arcane military uniform patches (Mythology and Pluribus). Two pieces depict brick walls from the almost literal ((De)portable) to abstracted suggestion (Wall). A couple are mysterious small verticals overlaid with one central vertical stripe. A few outliers include a set of crowns; a text piece using Emma Lazarusâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; poetry disappearing as it moves along (Not Like) and a set of tiny bead-like objects suggesting disembodied heads (The Prisoners). There is a large group of works that do not use the grid format, but rather form skin-like objects assembled from the confetti type of shredded currency. Finally, there is a personal favorite set that forms brocades (Brokeade #1 and Brokeade #2) eerily reminiscent of that style that evokes Victorian decorative fabric worn by ancestors.
Many artists seek tricks to get themselves going in the studio, whether facing a blank canvas or a blank computer screen. For Kokin and others, assigning themselves a narrow range of options is more desirable than having total freedom, which can lead to artistic paralysis. Kokin shared with me that she thrives on the â&#x20AC;&#x153;joy of limitations.â&#x20AC;? Her months of rigor and discipline have brought us an art that is both visually and emotionally emphatic and at the same time is very much of this world. Renny Pritikin is a Bay Area poet and art writer who is the Chief Curator at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
List of works All works made of shredded money and thread unless otherwise indicated. Front cover Brokeade #1 detail Page 2 Brokeade #1 37 x 25 inches, 2016 Page 4 (De)portable detail Page 6–7 (De)portable Shredded money, PVA, mull 37.5 x 55.5 inches, 2017 Page 8 Brokeade #2 26.5 x 26 inches, 2017 Page 9 Love My Tender 7 x 21.75 inches, 2017 Page 10–11 Beyond the Pale detail Page 12–13 Beyond the Pale 50 x 63.5 inches, 2017 Page 14 Cold Comforter detail Page 15 Cold Comforter 67 x 44 inches, 2018
Page 16 Attachment Disorder 42 x 35 inches, 2017
Page 28 Barred 19.5 x 9 inches, 2018
Page 17 Attachment Disorder detail
Page 29 Trickle Down 8.5 x 6.75 inches, 2018
Page 18 Profit and Loss 32 x 25 inches, 2017 Page 19 Profit and Loss detail Page 20–21 Not Like and detail 14 x 22.5, 2017 Page 22–23 Wall and detail 34 x 52, 2017 Page 24 Almighty (No) 7.5 x 7 inches, 2017 Page 25 Almighty (Washing) and detail 8 x 3.75 inches, 2017 Page 26 Almighty (Er) and detail 21.5 x 6 inches, 2017 Page 27 Almighty (Wa) 10.5 x 8 inches, 2017
Page 30 Let Them Eat Cake #7 7.25 x 8.75 inches, 2018 Page 31 Let Them Eat Cake #1 7.5 x 7.25 inches, 2018 Page 32 Let Them Eat Cake #4 6.25 x 6 inches, 2018 Page 33 Let Them Eat Cake #2 6.5 x 6.25 inches, 2018 Page 34 Emblem 15.5 x 14.5 inches, 2016 Page 35 Pluribus 30.75 x 35 inches, 2016 Page 36–37 Firmament and detail 9.5 x 13.5 inches, 2017 Back cover Brokeade #1 detail