In the Offing

Review

In the Offing

By Vanessa Kauffman Zimmerly March 29, 2016

“The offing” is the farthest point the eye can see when looking at the ocean from shore. It is the lateral strip of water that concludes the earthly side of the horizon, and is the recipient of both the first and last kiss of light as the day begins and ends. Elementally the offing has a physical, water-saturated truth, although it is intangible; by definition, the offing is an unreachable place, a place that must keep its distance to keep its name. Metaphorically, the offing is that something far in the future that we anticipate, make assumptions about, and lose sleep over, even as it continues to occupy a very unreal and ill-defined shape. It is this kind of anticipatory thinking that imbues the works of artist Gabrielle Teschner in her current show, In the Offing, a rotating installation of works on fabric and paper made during Teschner’s three-month residency at Irving Street Projects (ISP), a conjoint studio and exhibition space in the Outer Sunset neighborhood of San Francisco.

Marrying method and material, Teschner has made a ritual of walking the six blocks from ISP to the Pacific Ocean daily to collect seawater throughout her residency. Back in the studio, Teschner mixes the seawater with watercolor pigments to create mottled oceanic hues that she washes onto blocks of unbleached muslin. Blocks painted on different days have distinct dispositions. They—along with the handful of typed haikus that are taped to the front window and a sequence of notational paper cups lining the sill—are a book of days, a calendar of Teschner’s processional.

Gabrielle Teschner. The First Break, 2016; watercolor on muslin; 46.5 x 23 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Irving Street Projects.

Painted muslin blocks are the framework for Teschner’s series of large fabric pieces, which depict forms familiar from the built environment. Teschner’s renderings—of walls, chairs, and columns, in this instance—are shown unsettlingly isolated, untethered from any ground, and yet carefully pieced, block by block. Enveloping the gallery of ISP during my visit was the 13-foot-long Seawall (2016), which wraps along two walls and into the crevice of their connecting corner. Seawall mimics the shape of its support, but it is a wall that is swimming, or floating, within a blue expanse. Teschner's seawall abuts or joins nothing. Its ends show fully on either side; it does not barricade or divide. It is a wall only because we have named and remembered it to be. Even within its own construction—the outline of its parts haphazardly aligning—the wall seems to be wary of itself.

This isolation and idiosyncratic geometry are the vernacular of Teschner’s work. With these qualities, we are given the opportunity to examine the world’s parts piecemeal. Forms that were once logical because of their context start to reveal themselves in a new light in this work, proving the flexibility of what could be in an architecture unhinged from staid associations. Teschner embodies this playful unknowing of the known again in East Chair (2016) and West Chair (2016). As their titles tell you, these two tapestries of chairs hang on the eastern and western walls of the gallery. Teschner describes them as disembodied portraits—they are seats for the sentinels she imagines watching her, just as she watches the ocean. The chairs boast sturdy, three-dimensionally depicted slabs for seats, but their legs and backs are mere two-dimensional planes, flattening the armature, and with it their viability.

Gabrielle Teschner. In the Offing, 2016; installation view. Courtesy of the Artist and Irving Street Projects.

Teschner’s works in In the Offing all epitomize a high standard of craft, but by the same turn they destabilize ready-made, rigid perceptions of architectural perfection. Each piece’s governing grid is visible, yet decidedly askance. These wayward coordinates assert the question of how far we might push our structures before they become untenable, unrecognizable. Interior seams are sewn and pressed with care, while the edges are left raw, vulnerable to fraying. This rawness too is an offing: a distinct edge marking the end of one form, the edge of the picture we can conjure in our minds, or the edge we created because we thought we needed one. Teschner uses her sophistication of craft as an emblem of knowledge’s best trick. Once formed, our self-measured truths become all too easy to hold taut—and while these ideologies may be ones of malleable, woven means, they are not lacking in resilience once they are formed.

As it is continually reconstituted while new ideas are formed and work is made, Teschner’s installation strikes a chord of paradox, humor, and poetry as it reiterates. Never existing in one complete or fixed state, the whole of In the Offing is perceptual, ephemeral, and viewer-relative. Teschner’s authorial hand may quite literally sew together the thread of her envisioning, but the pieces are ours to lean into or affix. Her pieced forms are reminders to take care with what we do with the blocks given to us. What resounds throughout Teschner’s installation is that there is something inherently, and wonderfully, perplexing about the notion of being in the offing, the place that is forever advancing us—the place that keeps us seeking. 

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Gabrielle Teschner | In the Offing is on view at Irving Street Projects, in San Francisco, through March 31, 2014.

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