LAXART: Boundaries Crossed in the Work of Zarouhie Abdalian
By Genie Davis
Zarouhie Abdalian’s Work, just closed at LAXART is a mysteriously evocative series that attempts to define how we shape our world. Using natural materials and nature itself as her subject, and the transformation of these through the labor of making art, Abdalian shifts and crosses the boundaries between a natural form and that form’s change into an artwork.
Based in New Orleans, Abdalian has created shapes that utilize both the power of their natural materials and the strength of her craft. As with her 2016 series of metal sculptures, Joint, the artist has taken a fascinating visual concept and made an almost spiritual construct from it.
With Work, she is examining the moment in which her own craft meets nature’s and alters it. In the main gallery, small, dimensional abstract works that are both serene and mysterious line the walls. These pieces are from her series “From Chalk Mine Hollow.” The raw materials here came from an abandoned Mississippi chalk mine. All white and pastel, the finished abstract art has a ghostly, luminous quality; reliefs which are dream-like in approach, something not so much shaped as willed into being.
In contrast, in the gallery’s center, steel tool heads are positioned on narrow pedestals. These tools are oxidized, relics not just of the work they’ve performed but serving as a kind of ritualistic sculpture in their own right. Titled “brunt,” this series is a fascinating juxtaposition with the far more delicate visual of the wall hangings. Brown in color and seemingly poised in a moment of action, they are antique and eternal, frozen in time, preserved in their use at what is inferred by viewers to be the moment of creation.
Further lending verisimilitude to that ultimate moment, and adding more power to it, is a soundtrack that echoes periodically from a back room, a recording of the sound made by striking rocks. Almost musical yet disonant, the reverberating sound draws the viewer into the act of creation, the taming of and reshaping of nature.
In an adjoining gallery room, the artist has displayed broken pieces of machinery. These broken objects serve as a cautionary tale about the power of creation, the hubris and strength of man’s will versus that of nature. Also a part of the exhibition was a video monitor that shows a series of chisel edges, seen in intense close up. Viewed in this fashion, the edges become strange, even monolithic shapes. The viewer loses perspective, or perhaps engages in it – these tiny bits of what once were tools held so much power of transformation before being transformed themselves.
There is a coolness and remove to these works that seems to set aside the being – the artist – that is entranced by the natural object, uses it, imagines it, operates the tools to re-form it, wears those tools to minute bits. The concept of an artist herself is a remote, perhaps unseen and god-like presence here. However remote the artist herself, the show’s look at the stages of art making, of what is truly the nature vs. nurture aspects of birthing an artwork formed a memorable and thought-provoking exhibition.
LAXART is located at 7000 Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood.