DIVERTED DESTRUCTION at Loft at Liz’s
Through August 20th
By Betty Ann Brown
Nihil humanum a me alienum puto (Nothing human is alien to me.)
~Terence, Roman poet
Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.
~Carlos Fuentes, Mexican poet
Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
~Franklin D. Roosevelt, US President
Liz Gordon’s Diverted Destruction: The Human Condition at her Loft at Liz’s gallery is one in a series of exhibitions featuring artists who use urban detritus to create collages and assemblage sculpture. This year, Liz invited nine women whose work deals with human rights and refugree/immigration issues: Fana Babadayo, Ching Ching Cheng, Alexandra Dillon, Kathi Flood, Camilla Taylor, Roslyn Myles, Diane Williams, Marjan Vayghan, and Linda Vallejo. Gordon included an installation of discards from her antique hardware store downstairs in the gallery project space, a trove offered to any and all object-makers who could recycle and repurpose the goods that might otherwise be destined for a landfill.
Entering the gallery, viewers are immediately confronted by coterie of “trash” sculptures by Diane Williams. Loosely woven of fabric, yarn, rope and “threads” made from shredded oil and acrylic paintings, the textile-like hangings are lined with various iterations of the word “Immigrant.” Williams’ evocative images remind us that immigrants are forced to compose their daily lives from fragments of identity and history that were assaulted in their countries of origin. And many of them are further assaulted when they enter this country.
Around the corner from Williams’ work is a trio of shelves holding examples from Linda Vallejo’s series exploring the tradition of Missing Child Milk Cartons: a group of sculptures created from recycled cartons, “found” photographs, a thick encrustation of pumice, and black acrylic paint. Because pumice is volcanic glass, the artworks suggest analogies with the Hawaiian lava flow. And because many of the photographs portray frightened or injured children, they summon nightmares of family separations on the border. (As it happens, Vallejo’s works were completed over a decade ago.)
Alexandra Dillon’s portraits on used paintbrushes depict immigrant and refugee women from Afghanistan to Brazil, Somalia to Syria. Dillon’s striking paintings recall Fayum mummy portraits from early Christian Egypt. Like the Fayum portraits, the remarkable brush figures stare out at viewers with strong, quiet confidence. These are real faces, real people, real displaced human victims of international turmoil. Their adamant presence insists that viewers see them as fully–and equally–human.
Kathi Flood exhibits eleven “etching collages” that are augmented with found objects, from children’s clothing to paper-doll-like figures. Flood’s collages have a nostalgic quality; her “Welcome Series” presents an elusive narrative of American life in decades past. Rather than idealize the past, however, Flood personalizes it and makes it tangible, articulating her memories in quotidian “found” objects that would usually be discarded.
Camilla Taylor’s four mixed media sculptures physicalize the nature of human anguish and loss. An immense hand reaches up, the fingers stretching toward an unseen goal. (I think of the hand from the Colossus of Constantine, now standing on a plinth in a Roman museum.) A decapitated figure extends its serpentine arms over the empty floor. (I am reminded of Robert Gober’s truncated figures.) An androgynous and similarly headless torso curls one arm across its ribs. Was the other arm amputated? Does the mottled surface refer to scarring? Has one breast been partially excised? (I remember Marcel Duchamp’s reclining figure in Etant donnes [1946-1966], which is also headless and ambiguously gendered.) Taylor’s fourth piece is Overnight Guest, a scattered pile of fifty cartonnage heads. Cartonnage is the glue with linen or papyrus substance used for Egyptian mummies, so that connection is intentional. But I also think of Louise Bourgeois’s heads–similarly made of treated fabric–such as her A Woman Without Secrets.
Ching Ching Cheng’s Apron Series is composed, as the title indicates, of repurposed kitchen aprons. The textiles are dipped in epoxy and shaped into various sculptural configurations, some boxy, some folded over brick shapes, and some resembling nothing as much as eccentric reliquaries holding the sacred bones of a saint. Indeed, each of the aprons can be considered a metaphoric container of historic female identity, the cultural prescription that relegated women to the domestic world, while men dealt with the public sphere. Louise Bourgeois did an entire group of artworks about what the French call femme maison (housewife in English.) But whereas Bourgeois replaced feminine body parts with architectural components, Ching Ching Cheng identifies one piece of female attire as the symbolic embodiment of gender stereotypes.
Marjan Vayghan’s installation is a small wooden dollhouse, open to one side to reveal four interior rooms. It represents the dowries paid by the parents of young women historically–and still paid in various parts of the world. In effect, a dowry is payment to a man for the cost of bringing a woman into his house. Like Louise Bourgeois’s femme maison, Vayghan’s installation highlights the way women were relegated to–and financially disempowered by–domesticity.
Rosalyn Myles uses discarded fabric fragments as “holders” of female identity. Her Belt is a female “tool belt,” holding photographs, cigarettes, and other memory receptacles rather than hammers and other male-linked tools. Myles writes, “Uncovering underserved concerns that plague women, excluded communities, ad the disenfranchised, I use traces of history, found materials, film, fabric, wood, paint, line, and language to effectively tell stories and inform on these narratives.” Her statement could serve to describe the creative impulses behind the entire exhibition.
At the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, there is a painting by Hans-Siebert von Heister entitled Anger (1920). A harshly angular nude bent into an impossibly awkward pose, screams out in intense red, each jagged brushstroke a cry of pain. I visit almost every time I go to the museum because I think it is such a successful depiction of the figural and chromatic distortions of German Expressionism. Fana Babadayo’s Ori (2017, mixed media on wood) has the same affect. A haunting red face with empty ghostly eyes stares out from a scratched and smeared surface. It recalls the von Heister Anger as well as many of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s anguished canvases. And it could serve as the “logo” of immigration problems in general and the family separation scandal in particular: a child-like rendering that is both horrific and heartbreaking.
All art involves the transformation of mute, ostensibly neutral materials (mud for clay, charcoal for pigment, linseed oil for binder, metal for casting) into meaning-bearing images. Liz Gordon’s ongoing Diverted Destruction series of exhibitions reminds us that artists can use what others might consider “trash” to address key issues of our times.
The Loft at Liz’s
453 S. La Brea Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Open Monday – Saturday 10am to 6pm