A visitor can be forgiven for entering Yi Gallery’s current exhibition, “Mitosis“, and wondering whether they’ve been shrunken down into an aesthetically pleasing science lab.
All that’s missing is the petri dish.
This solo show of works by Leah Harper indicates the scope and breadth of the artist’s multi-disciplinary practice in dialogue with the lived environment, particularly with regards to marine life.
The abstracted “creatures” that the artist presents assume migratory patterns, frozen in a form of arrested motion. By foregrounding the objects themselves, one is compelled to think to a larger scale – that of the ocean itself. With light-filled sculptures installed in clusters on the floor of the gallery, minute azure-hued clusters of works arranged in meticulous sculptural groupings on one consolidated wall, and one-dimensional representations of these same minuscule “creatures” framed throughout the gallery space, guests are reminded to consider the scale of environments they encounter.
Another consideration is the fragility embodied by the range of “creatures” the artist has created for the exhibition. Whether embracing glazed porcelain, mixed media with resin or working on paper, the works Harper presents in “Mitosis” exude an element of precarity and preciousness. The flattened lines and graceful curves of Harper’s forms give visitors a tabula rasa from which to frame personal reflections on their own encounters with the ocean and its fragile ecosystems, such as coral reefs. These careful and clean linear stylings present in “Mitosis” are no accident, and their careful precision offer an homage to the delicate and overwhelming beauty found in nature’s presence.
Originally from the Gulf Coast of Florida and currently based in close proximity to the Atlantic in New York City, Harper’s work provides a delicately beautiful elegy to the oceanic environments we are ever compelled to preserve, or risk losing forever. Drawing from a rich background spanning fine art, architecture and graphic design, Harper’s perceptive work echoes Heidegger’s concept of the essence of artwork as a means of access to better explore truth and culture. “Mitosis” serves as a springboard to better frame the truth of our lived environments, our responsibilities to them and our ability to perceive the beauty of the living creatures around us in their purest form.
Artist Candace Jensen traces illuminated pathways through history, fine art, ecologies and landscapes. She is a self-proclaimed “interdisciplinary visual artist, writer, printmaker, calligrapher, activist and woods witch,” invested in a practice rooted in precepts of Deep Ecology. A Vermont-based artist, Jensen’s practice assimilates a rich range of inspirations, from illuminated manuscripts to poetry, environmental impact, mythology and fictions. As part of this conversation with the artist, a top prize winner of the “Alchemy” open call curated by Writer, Independent Curator and Wedge Studio Owner/Founder Douglas Turner, Jensen shares her reading list in tandem with her current body of work, its concepts and evolution, and a look forward at what’s to come: https://www.candacejensen.com/
(lead image: “Deconstructed Yantra: Gold, Red, White” by Candace Jensen; gold leaf, gouache, inkjet ink on plastic transfer and bronze leaf on paper 11” x 15” (2017))
ANTE mag. Thanks for chatting with us, Candace! Can you tell us what you’re currently reading (as a point of entry into your practice)?
Candace Jensen. Wow that is such a question. My TBR (to be read*-Ed.) stacks are plentiful, and I am a serial polytome reader. I should just send you a bunch of snappy pics of my coffee table, bedside table, the side of the couch the dog doesn’t sleep on… I just finished Mark Leidner’s Returning the Sword to the Stone, and Maria Dahvana Headley’s new translation of Beowulf in the wee hours of the night. They were both wry, and smart and very funny. Cindy Arrieu-King’s new book, The In Betweens, is a slim volume which has nonetheless lasted me a few weeks— she has such a wonderfully deliberate pace to her accounts, which all hover near the anecdotal but stay rooted in the contemplative, or vice-versa. So I’ve been sitting with that one for a while, chewing. I’ve begun reading Kate Soper’s Post-Growth Living: For An Alternate Hedonism, and Nedra Tawwab’s Set Boundaries, Find Peace, for theory and enrichment, but haven’t gotten far enough yet to report much on either (it’s looking good). My guilty-but-not-ashamed pleasure right now is the webcomic Lore Olympus by Rachel Smythe, which I anticipate every Saturday evening… I’ll stop there.
ANTE mag.We were hoping you could expand on the question: what has the artist to offer? Way-finding, escapism, mythical creation, distraction, contemplation, or exploration?
CJ. I am very attracted to this word group, and three triangulate to my work quite well: Way-finding, Mythical Creation, Contemplation. In a piece like Parzival, these are both my process and the verve of the finished piece. It was a messy throwaway scrap drawing, and it moved with me numerous times over a few years before it suddenly materialized into exactly what I needed as a vehicle for the grail myth, which I only recently became enamored with after reading more about it through Martin Shaw’s work.
I’m channeling myths, and echoing myths, and in this way I am hoping to create myths. But mythology by and large seems to me to be a “everything old is new again” kind of thing. They will always be read by the voice of the Zeitgeist, and can be appropriated and disrespected or exalted and magnified by our interest and lack therof.
I think about the meaning of the work a lot in terms of the materials I use: of course, paper is incredibly precious, but we culturally treat it as if it were worthless. The environmental cost of paper-making and the sheer magic of its history in so many different cultural contexts, really it should be revered. But we tear it, trash it, recycle it occasionally. So in a drawing, it can be elevated out of its presumed worthlessness, the lead state, but that requires the contemplation and reflection upon it.
The layers of my illuminations are something to look through, and see around. There is some digging involved, if the viewer is patient. The chance that a person viewing my work will pause to really figure out the language and the layering is about one in twelve, I’ve watched and counted. So there is also a barrier to some people to even get to the point of being able to think through some of the materials I am presenting.
ANTE mag.Can you respond to/speak more on this reflection?: “These ‘Gaia Illuminations’ are chimeras of ecological relationship theory, practiced and recorded systems of knowledge and magic, and both invented and inherited mythology. I investigate nature/culture dualism through the lens of deep ecology, and face my own hopes and skepticisms through layered symbolic and totemic images, organic textures, and text.”
CJ. I am at heart a maximalist, and when I endeavored to casually reinvent calligraphic illumination through the lens of Gaia theory and Deep Ecology, I used that lens. Everything needs to be in it, or reflected, or hinted at, to truly be representative of a Whole large enough that we could consider the Terra entity. So, I don’t weed the garden beds of these illuminations. I plant a few particular seeds, be it a poem or a myth, and then I let a polyculture grow around it without playing gatekeeper (metaphor mixing here, it’s giving me life right now). So the quote above from my artist statement is a dense shorthand for saying “everything including the kitchen sink” and the totality isn’t afraid of itself. The claws are a different animal than the neck and head, but they nonetheless are unified. The result is tricky to read or disentangle, and that is perhaps how it should be— resilience theory emphasizes complexity, diversity, layers, redundancy. And that is not at all the same type of communication we are used to trying for. We are quite used to essaying our damnedest to be understood, to be clear, and are often encouraged to be pithy— no one wants to read your expounding, mile long email. Clarity and simplicity are useful, beautiful, wonderful, or something else, but if the Terrestrial totality is to be the heart of this compendium (series), then it must be much messier and overfilled. The sheer volume of ingredients going into this work overwhelms me, chronic deep thinker that I am. The way the visual poetry of the entanglements hint at, reveal and obfuscate meaning are a way of reflecting, learning and accepting in the end, how little I know, and how small my powers are. Its a humbling process. To think back to the prompt of Alchemy, I suppose the artwork is more the spagyric, the transformational process, and I am the element undergoing its effects. Whether I come out as gold, or dross, is to be seen.
ANTE mag.What do you have upcoming that you can share with us?
CJ. I am juggling a couple of really exciting exhibitions and events this year. On May 13th I will be contributing to an online discussion with a few other very talented and interesting artists through EcoArtSpace, “Getting Off the Planet” at 1pm EST. https://ecoartspace.org/event-4262935I was also awarded a solo exhibition at the Southern Vermont Arts Center in Manchester, VT this summer. There is an opening reception planned (in person! wow) on Saturday, June 12th, and the show will run through July 2021.The planning and construction of the residency I founded with my partner, In Situ Polyculture Commons, continues; we are hoping to be able to announce an opening schedule for sometime in 2022, but in the meantime I have planted dozens of fruit and nut trees and perennials to support an edible landscape for our future guests. Lastly, in hopes that the health of communities abroad stabilize and recover from this last year and a half of pandemic, I will be looking forward to setting sail on the 2021 Arctic Circle Residency voyage in October of this year. Fingers crossed for many reasons!
Editors: Keep up with Candace on her website and/or follow her Instagramfor updates on current and upcoming exhibitions, such as her solo show at the Southern Vermont Arts Center (Summer 2021) and upcoming three-person show at Amos Eno gallery (Spring 2022.)
Lines approach and recede from view in the effervescent compositions comprising Sugawara-Beda’s “I’ll Be There,” on view now through May 1, 2021, at the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in Fond du Lac, WI. Tradition and expansion are present in the exhibit in equal measure, with the artist embracing traditional mounting techniques typically used to present Japanese paintings on paper on scroll format. This aspect of her exhibition, which exhibits work from her “KuroKuroShiro” series (the series title is Japanese for black-black-white,) has allowed the artist to approach new formats and avenues of collaboration. “For this exhibition, I incorporated tradition directly into my art by having my art mounted in a traditional mounting called Kakejiku,” remarks Sugawara-Beda. “This activity has become a collaboration with craftsmen and merchants and formed a new dimension in my art-making process.”
Collaborations notwithstanding, the artist’s work asserts its expansive presence through a dynamic sensibility that transcends the shades of gray it is composed of, seemingly eluding the two-dimensionality of the picture plane. Sumi ink is a medium that lends itself more readily to form broad, abstract washes, so it’s exciting to see Sugawara-Beda’s sharp use of individually distinguished lines and forms traversing the picture plane. While incorporating traditional elements, the artist’s work is anything but, sharing art historical space with the canon of Op Art and Abstract Expressionist painters as much as the traditional Japanese Sumi ink painting tradition.
Borrowing from the lexicon of seasonal paintings, which in Japan are often mounted on scrolls often related to the nation’s traditional 72 seasonsinforming the land’s literary traditions, and depicting landscape scenes relevant to each portion of the year, the artist here has provided elevated, abstracted pathways for visitors to construct their own relation to each ‘season’ on view. Whereas her KuroKuroShiro CI Sacred Lot – winter work provides the viewer with an expanse of space in which to lose their train of thought, much like a wind and snow-swept field, her work KuroKuroShiro CV Sacred Lot – summer seems to allude to the June rainy season in Japan giving way to the warm nights of summer and the kero-kero cries of frogs in the balmy air. Even visitors unfamiliar with Japanese traditions can find respite in these works, which provide a hypnotic assembly of overlapping and receding lines for viewers to ruminate over.
Meditative and idiosyncratic in equal measure, the artist’s work finds its own path to nature. The artist notes of the works mounted on Kakejiku that they allude to a higher, spiritual sense of nature and the seasons. “Even though [these works] are in a vertical format, they are still landscapes, and each generates a seasonal tone: spring, summer, autumn, and winter,” observes Sugawara-Beda in her work statement. Each work opens up a reverie for viewers to explore, with seasons mounted specific to the traditions of patterned fabrics as adopted for use in Japanese traditional painting presentation. The artist hearkens back to the highly developed appreciation for the season’s procession embedded within Japanese perspectives, while adapting a sensibility aligned with Western abstract painting traditions, giving way to a Third Space in which visitors can find their own framework for navigating the formal elements of her paintings. There is something ready waiting for everyone to find in “I’ll Be There.” Check back with the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts for exact directions and visiting hours.
An Interview between Audra Lambert and Eileen O’Kane Kornreich
Our current dual American crises of pandemic outbreak and social inequality are both eerily present in this visceral body of work I encountered by artist Eileen O’Kane Kornreich, “Mortality Path.” The series is open to viewer interpretation as the artist depicts the site of Washington Square Park, a space that has served various functions over the years: a place for organized protest, leisurely strolls, farmland, and a burial ground. Kornreich presents scenes from this locale not with realistic details but charged with facets of the various histories that compose the elements of the site itself.
I first became aware of this series a few months ago, when I met with the artist after encountering her current body of work, “Creatures,” which explores concepts related to the “Gilgamesh” epic. The artist’s powerful dual approaches contrasting the historical realm of Myth against the personal myths we build around our own lives intrigued me, enticing me to learn more about her past body of work. Encountering “Mortality Path,” it became clear that Kornreich invested significant time in researching the purpose of this site throughout New York City’s nearly 400-year history, particularly as it relates to the settlement of Manhattan as it spanned northward from its origins in the current Financial District. The artist charts her engagement with the site from a personal level as someone who frequented the park, diving into its secrets and hidden history in the wake of poignant personal grief she was experiencing during the time period that this series emerged. Kornreich observes rather than comments: she views the psychological aspects of the park’s trajectory, tracing the multi-layered history informing the experience of walking paths along the northwest corner of the park. I sat down with Kornreich for this somber and reflective journey through grief, contemplation, and the intractable pall that past histories indelibly cast on our experience of the present moment.
ANTE mag. Walk us through the origin of “Mortality Path” and your early foray into capturing the vistas of Washington Square Park, how did this space first attract your attention and inspire you to begin work on this series?
Eileen O’Kane Kornreich.After my husband died early 2015, I had been thinking of our mortality and how we humans manipulate the natural world and ritualize our deaths. Death of a beloved brings one down memory lane, and I found myself digging out work from forty years earlier. In the late 1970’s I went through several years of painting landscapes. I was charmed by one oil of the trees out of my studio window. Everything I loved and lived with during those years are dead: the dog, the boyfriend. Everything gone – but not the trees. I drove to see them, still outside that window, the dog buried not more than twenty feet away. I thought of trees and burials, like burials in Indonesia where they inter dead babies in a ritual where they and their spirits are absorbed by nature, which I believe is lovely. I thought of all the markers for our dead, all the bodies moved into catacombs, then I reminded myself of potters’ fields. There are thousands of dumping grounds for human remains; we walk on them daily and are unaware. Washington Square Park’s northwest corner is something I am very aware of and that is so centric to our city and country’s history, yet there are no markers for all those people.
ANTE mag. The theme of this work is site-specific, dwelling on a certain location: The Northwest corner of Washington Square Park. Are you drawn to working with spaces and their layered histories? Why or why not?
EO’KK.This was a first [for me to use a particular site.] This is so specific a site: fifty to two hundred feet of a site. It was not a conscience decision to use a small-scale location. It was a conscience decision to use a mammoth atrocity to over tens of thousands of people, acknowledged. These bodies that were dumped, hidden, ignored, and historically expunged and that one American Elm onsite who saw it all and is still alive. That’s the story.
ANTE mag. You note that in this body of work that you build… “from society’s constructed beauty that masks atrocities below.” What about this contrast compelled you to create these artworks?
EO’KK. There are several written histories of the what and why of the potter’s field in and around what is now known as Washington Square Park. New York City has records of purchasing sections of the eastern side of the park for a potter’s field in 1790s. At that time, this land was already used by several African churches located near that same land when this area was farmland owned by freed slaves. The city has notes of the bodies dumped in the north west corned on the banks of the Minetta Creek: this was an area, again, long in use by the native population. This undesirable area was partitioned off to native peoples, freed slaves and rogue New Yorkers, The English and Dutch, then reclaimed as a potter’s field – can you imagine? I imagined then and still to this day, all the bodies laid or splayed, then topped with fill for years as the pandemic raged during humid summers or a citizen was murderer. A few decades after the last of the stink and vermin had died off, only then a military square is constructed for pageantry around the square mansions that have since been constructed. Imagine bunting and flags and shots of rifles children playing in and around where just a generation ago lay the bodies of a putrid death, some named some not, thrown into a ditch. We have a similar situation to this now at the area near World Trade Center: different, clearly, in terms of intent, but so many go about their day and eat lunches over the bodies of those killed in 9/11. Across the street is an African burial site that just received its historical plaque. And so, it goes, it’s all around us.
ANTE mag. These works feature emotionally charged colors, and the strong use of perspective in these works creates a sense of heightened anxiety and alienation. What are some of the emotions present in these works and why?
EO’KK. Emotionally charged color is my grammar, the construction of my visual language. While making these drawings, I am aware that I’m in a graveyard, that there is death beneath my feet – it brings to mind my husband’s graveyard in Valhalla, NY, which is gorgeous and shows diversity across its many sections, yet beneath these graves are even older burial sites of native peoples, settlers, anicent beasts….these layers of history continue endlessly. With Washington Square Park, that one particular corner has never had a plaque until they put a plaque at the arch noting that in the 19th century, ten African wooden caskets were placed at this site in 1850. But that begs the question of why these freed men and women of color were in this site, which at that time was still relatively undeveloped? Early settlers had no qualms about using free slaves as a buffer from native people’s attacks on first the Dutch, then the English took over. This is a part of our history we can find if we dig through the layers. There are many perspectives in the park, off in one area you can even watch the light bouncing off the distant Hudson River, even noting a small square where you can see New Jersey. These photos were taken during walks in the winter and there is refracted light, light shining on in the darkness. This is my contemplation on color and perspective: how it’s read or absorbed by the viewer is for them to tell that story, I’ve told mine.
ANTE mag. The presence of trees is palpable in these works: what meaning do these park trees have for you, metaphorically, in this series?
EO’KK. The four-hundred-year-old American Elm in the Northwest corner of the park is a monument we locals call the Hanging Tree. That is my leading lady. If she could talk, she would set me straight. She would tell the burden of the dead and dying, and hangmen alike. The other trees, the recent plantings by our wealthy society, those represent the frivolous, the pageantry, the amnesia of a city wanting to not remember or know what they did, what happened in the past.
ANTE mag. Can you explain your process in creating these compositions? For example, did you photograph the site from different angles then draw those with pencil on paper? Did you create these works en plein air?
EO’KK. While in the park, I photograph a path, a tree. I take upwards of three hundred shots with my camera and print what is valid to my eye. From these I construct a photo-collage of multiple perspectives, giving me a 360-degree view of a tree, shadow or path. It is a very cubist drawing which arises from the collage. I create the base drawing in pencil. From the base drawing, I work with acrylic, conte crayon, pastel, crayon and graphite to build the finished work.
ANTE mag. You reference that these works recall “mysterious dreamscapes of nature.” Can you elaborate on that sentiment in relation to this body of work?
EO’KK. Once I start layering color with crayon and pastel the hard cubist edges are removed, and the multi-perspectives become one trippy, mysterious landscape.
What happens when we die? Every person who has lived during the age of reason has thought of the why’s and where’s of the afterlife. Does the answer lie with a god or gods, or spirits, or is it science? Why are some deaths celebrated and interred in strong, elaborate shrines while others are burned on a river or dumped in a marsh that becomes a celebrated park a few decades later? That’s just luck. My deeper thoughts are what happens after our internal light is out.