Echo

    Thursday, November 26, 1992 to Friday, December 18, 1992

    Dilemma… It is perplexing to me, this need for the written word, this anxiety for print. Does Barbara Brown’s work need my writing to legitimize it? Explain it? Or define it? Of course not. I cannot. It is all the more a perplexing dilemma in this event, this instance because echo is verbal without being literal, yet I am setting out to very literally write about it. Dilemma #2: Echoes are elusive; they are phenomenological. Echoes are traces of events which are themselves events. Something of the echo is lost in writing. Then again, writing is itself a literal instance of the echo – this writing is both an event and a response, a production and a contortion. It is experiential, and any attempt to define it becomes something else entirely. Yet in the act of telling about it, writing it, translating it, we maintain a trace of the experience nonetheless. As a way to defer and acknowledge the paradox inherent in any attempt to explain or “de-fine” the echoes in Brown’s exhibition, I approach this endeavour to write somewhat elliptically. I shall use my experiences and associations with Brown’s work in order to weave a conversation with it – not in an attempt to elide the work but rather, to explore some of its dimensions. And to share this exploration. enclosure disclosure Wire, elliptical forms, spaces, relationships – meanings slipping and weaving in and out of each other. Entangled. Literally and materially, “nothing” is captured; everything is exposed. Associations mingle freely as in a complex web – resting here and there at intersections between thoughts, memories, learning, history, material and presence. Yet somehow the excess is focused, not rambling in a disparate flood of contingency. I am quieted by these objects, calmed by their insistent but not overwhelming presence. I am moved to engage, indulge, in my own specific associations. Bu there are no “first” associations here for me; no immediate and self-evident way in which to approach or bring forward the echoes and traces that meet to give this work its meaningfulness. Significance appears as a process without beginning or end – a dialectical movement that swings and sways between moments of questioning and moments of knowing. In that movement, the oscillation between investigation and discovery, a space is opened for dialogue. seeing associations questioning Bundles of wire, the articulation of space, interiors, exteriors, markers of absence. Associations of containers, egg sacks, cocoons, nests. Structures are laid back here – simple forms with complex articulations. Is there a pattern to their construction? What is it that I don’t see? What is guarded within and by these arrangements of materials? Wire of steel and aluminium outline inside from outside. Yet what is inside is also outside and around me – space – invisible until I fill it. How will I fill it? thinking presence reflection I am aware of a ghostly physical or bodily resonance in these wire objects around me in the gallery. In size and placement, they respond to my size, acknowledge my physical body, echo my placement. They are like my shadows casting shadows – Asking questions that float beyond the you/me, I/thou, subject/object realm of awareness into the space of the third shadow. My gaze shifts to the shadows. I am intrigued by their presence – a gesture that moves me out of, or at least opens up, the habitual binaries through which I construct my world of meanings. The shadows become very rich – a projection, a collaboration, a whisper of the wire forms but with their own presence. A space of convergence and a question of origins. I look back to the objects… objects substance material Metalliferous. These objects are made from the same stuff that girds skyscrapers, supports bridges. It is the stuff of phone lines and electrical conduction. These are the archaic materials or media – of communication and transportation. What reasoning shaped these sinuous streams of steel, aluminium, and copper in Brown’s work? Why use these memorabilia of our cultural history? What is being foregrounded? I see cables unearthed, structural materials and supporting grids exposed, reworked. Low tech ghosts of a high tech world. I imagine that these things are the webs of a culture that uses materials to help define itself-help articulate itself to itself – yet at the same time only sees itself as a measure of value. Is it, then, the negative spaces that I value or the materials that are used to articulate them? Here, in this work, they are proven inseparable – entangled. technology form metaphor High and Low technology I wonder about my tendency to view the art around me as both a response to, and critique of, movements in science and technology. I catch myself beginning to relate Brown’s work to the microscope: a focus on observation, the attention to detail, a scopic examination, a formalist exploration. Brown’s exhibition is like a pause, things are slowed down, enlarged for a closer look. The fast-paced and complex world of high technology is placed in brackets, put on hold. Simple techniques and low-tech materials are foregrounded, magnified, observed in their own complexity. But how is it possible to magnify the passage of time – to make “time” visible? time process The fetishization of process. Repetition. Looking at Brown’s work I can’t help but think of the process. How much time spent folding, bending, bundling these wire forms, those patterns in forms? Such an investment made so visible – and for what end? What product, purpose, message, intention, function? What value? Is it possible to know? Why do I ask? I am reminded that I invest objects with value – transforming them into markers of value and echos of my values. I am reminded of the works and questions posed by Eva Hesse, Jackie Winsor, Faith Ringgold, and Miriam Schapiro. I consider the number of women artists who have established a visual dialogue with the work of women past – with textiles and craft. Herstory: There is an interesting connection between time spent and time past. I remember the first time I ventured into a textile museum. textiles memory history traces… My first walk through the Textile museum in Toronto brought me to an existential crisis. I saw before me a thousand(?) years of folding, bending, scrubbing, dying, spinning, weaving, stitching, needling, patching, sewing, crafting, embellishing, begetting and creating the world around me. How many lives are represented here? How many women hours? As I walked around the meters of minutely, exquisitely, detailed works on display, I knew that for every one I saw there were twelve in storage, millions more extant, and millions more than that destroyed or lost – worn out by use and their fibres returned to a cycle of production that saw or knew no end. I looked into those webs of fibres and saw a forever of women in unending repetition, repeating and improvising, talking through their hands, imprinting their voices and the voices of their children, their hopes, their myths, and the shapes that were both familiar and magical to them. And this defined their culture, created their culture, maintained it and embodied it. At least for me, as a visitor to the museum. Or to those of use who try to feel imprints, the traces of lives, through the texture of texts. In those textiles I saw embedded the effort or desire to imprint something – something I could never read but only register with significance. The significance that I construct, however, is informed by displacement. Those textiles seemed to have lost their anchor – set adrift as floating signs in a “(post?)modern” context. Skeletons, mummies without names, excavated and relocated – appropriated by a high tech world in mourning. They are recontextualized, and I confront my attempt to give them meaning, to re-anchor them in knowledge. Anxiety propels me. Is there a disembodiment at work in the evolvement of modern technology? Am I trying to recapture something lost? My own nostalgia for sensuality and subjectivity – for the absent hands, faces and lives that I conjure up as I move through each room of the museum – is complicit with the effacement and colonization that troubles me. sight skeletons of wires site I look at Brown’s work and I sense the tension of definitions, of signification and reference (art, craft, textiles, history, labour, women’s bodies) materialized in the tension of the wire, the balancing of the objects, the composition of the gallery, the weight of the metal, the insubstance of the shadows. And what about the context of the exhibition? Does the art gallery, as a context, embellish my understanding of the work or is the site a part of the articulation of the work? The gallery walls help shape the shadows, stage the light, extend the work. Meanings trickle in, like visitors to the gallery. – each nourishing the other with traces of excess. Cite… traces supplements seeing time… in each bend of wire, each layer, I imagine a history of work, a trace of time spent. Time is imprinted on the wire and bundled into a shape. The gallery is full of elliptical bundles of memory – traces of absence. In the absence of definitive meanings, I project fragments of my memories, my own culturally specific narratives and questions. I draw on my histories with things – of textiles, art, galleries, museums, technology, readings, texts. I unravel, reconstruct, and narrativize for reflection. In this way Brown’s work becomes encorporated into my history, an event in my life. We co-construct one another. projection meaning The work in this exhibition floats meanings. In an elliptical weaving of praxis and excess, objects hover. Tentative and suggestive, these wire structures belie foundations. Structures foreground “structure” as an empty thing in and of itself - as inseparable from the meanings we (I) project through them. The negative spaces – the interiors seen but not seen, the shadows cast on white gallery walls – are an invitation to project. And each projection of meaning, every approach to this exhibition, is a discovery – another articulation of who we are and what art can be. invitation conversation discover For me, echo is not a didactic conveyance of prior knowledge, but neither it is simply a hollow question, an empty screen. Echoes are interactions, produced and discovered as soon as we project our voices, our thoughts, our memories – each time we begin a conversation. But what I hear back , what resonates in an through the echo, is not determined by my voice alone. Kim Pruesse, 1992