Astri Swendsrud’s The Receivers at Irenic Projects

Astri Swendsrud, The Receivers, installation shot, photo courtesy of Sydney Walters

Astri Swendsrud’s The Receivers at Irenic Projects

Irenic Projects, Pasadena
through December 18, 2021

Written by Sydney Walters
An excerpt from Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper is posted at the entrance to The Receivers:

A pattern is formed through the simple act of repetition. In following the pattern, a chain of meaning develops. In searching for a pattern, I seek epiphany. I will solve a mystery, I will unlock the secrets of the universe, I will decorate my home.

In Astri Swendsrud’s prolific exhibit, she presents an electrifying array of drawings and sculptures which beckon zealots, believers, and skeptics alike. With an iconographic cannon closely linked to the Spiritualist painter Hilma af Klint, Swendsrud uses bright colors that are gently handled with soft uniformity. Like Klint’s biomorphic and geometric forms and patterns, Swendsrud handles her drawings with a reductive approach of composition and color, leaving swirls of negative space to be a placeholder as a mysterious abyss. By featuring symbols associated with spiritual rituals and tools designed to communicate with the spirit world, The Receivers serve as an earnest voyage into sympathetic magic and divination.

Programmer and director Gregory Michael Hernandez runs Irenic Projects in partnership with Mission Gathering Church in Pasadena. Therefore, Swendsrud’s drawings hang in the entrance hallways and sanctuary of the church. Working in a spiritually charged space, Swendsrud redirects the expectation to commune with God towards a rich symbology of electric towers, matches and beacons. Like Gothic paintings that literalized the spirit world with bizarre anthropomorphic allegories stationed along the path of a soul’s journey to heaven or hell, Swendsrud details a spiritual journey under the scrutiny of the Eye on the mountain.

The all-seeing eye of God, or Eye of Prominence, has many iterations in this exhibit. The symbol, often drawn as an eye among the clouds or atop a pyramid, has cropped up in many cultures throughout civilization. It is a popular symbol among conspiracy theories after its association with Freemason iconography. Here we see the Eye in flames, the Eye with colored spikes for lashes, the weeping Eye, or Eye with a beacon of light pouring from a swirled pupil. And among these clouds of glory, lightning bolts and checkered paths leading in and out of space, are dozens of arched portals opening into blackness or a celestial skyscape. 

In the middle of the sanctuary are two sculptures made out of long matchsticks. Some portions of the exposed wood are wrapped in wire or tinfoil. These communication towers simultaneously invite lightning, yet would inevitably combust in a fiery pillar if struck. This tension between curiosity and fear, as well as mystery and enlightenment, classify her body of work as documents belonging to an intrepid pilgrim. Like a mortal preparing to confront a god, The Receivers press on.

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