Animal, Judy Cooke, 2011
Interior Margins: A Question of Language
Originally published by PORT January 25, 2013
There are just three short days left to see the exhibition Interior Margins at the Lumber Room. Granted, this is not much time to observe and ponder the abstract experiments of the artists exhibiting therein, but to miss the questions posed by this eloquent exhibition entirely would be quite a loss. As one of the newer exhibition spaces to Portland, the Lumber Room is a fantastic addition, enriched by a live-in residency program that is on display as part of the gallery.
Interior Margins is Stephanie Snyder’s curation of contemporary abstract exploration by female artists who maintain current ties to the Pacific Northwest. Working in collaboration with the Lumber Room founder and director, Sarah Miller Meigs, Snyder has posed a question of gender within the tradition of abstraction. These artists’ quandaries extend into material and symbology apropos to a contemporary spirituality and revel in a boundary pushing curiosity. The show’s statement purports that (the artists exhibiting):
“enact the female body and the work of art toward abstraction’s interior visions, swelling forms that appear pressurized to the body’s proportions and the surfaces and fabrics that both adorn and reflect its symbolic potential, its mannerisms, while the Northwest’s wet, forested clime continues to assert its aqueous pull within the practices of Northwest abstractionists.”
The direction of the reader’s attention to the artists’ body is a reason to give pause. How exactly do they “enact the female body?” What “swelling forms” exist within this exhibition? Perhaps Judy Cooke’s graphic black shapes could be seen as “swelling,” but this is a stretch. The language is almost strange, irrelevant sounding. If this was a group of male abstractionists, no such reference to the artists’ bodies would have been made at all. It is almost as if the celebration of the rarity of female artists working in an abstract vernacular gives allowance to highlight the physicality of being female. The impetus for these abstractionists does not visibly have to do with being female. This is not an exhibition concerned with gender identity. These artists are dealing with ideas of material and language, existential philosophies, and meanings of process- as so many artists who make abstract work do. The fact that these artists are female is an exciting reason as any to have a show; it is simply that the show’s statement seems to deflate the intellectual aspect of this experience somewhat and replace it with the body. It is misleading. The interesting aspect of the female part of it is to see the continuation and variety of the tradition of women making abstract objects and images and to gather them together to see what is happening now. This is the essence of Interior Margins. What is feminine about the show is indefinable, perhaps because femininity itself is indefinable. Yet then again, so is personhood. There is an eloquence to the show, an essence of tactility, and an utter lack of violence. There is a thoughtful measure and a graceful formal consideration that is clear and well designed.
And yet there is a veil that exists over this work. It is a cloak of control, a nicety, the weight of manners and the clip of etiquette. There is a noted silence. In this way, this show is distinctly female. In between geometry and topography, cement and sand, there is muted fire. And perhaps this is actually the curating itself, the subdued and coy nature of the gallery’s quiet and hidden corners, the sheer expanse of the Lumber Room itself, awash in diplomatic space. The feminine experience is subsumed and translated into universal materials and the creation of unique voices. The exhibition can be described as feminine, yet each individual artist’s work would not necessarily be described as such. Interior Margins notes abstraction’s tradition and continuation as vivid and an unknown, rife with the possibility of expressing an interior world before unseen.