ResidueMay 3, 2011
Springtime rituals, like a good spring cleaning, are meant to bring a sense of transformation, a liberation from the past or a freshening up; but some things just don’t clean up all that easily. It’s vertiginous to contemplate the things we as humans use up and leave behind. I couldn’t help but think of the recent nuclear leaks in Japan and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill as I strolled through Renée Delores’ exhibition Residue, installed with an elegant austerity at Martina Johnston Gallery, the gallery and living space of Indira Morre and Farley Gwazda. Delores’ diverse works track our material imprints upon the world within the remains of personal histories and human interactions with the nonhuman world.
The works of Residue are based on labor-intensive processes and a ritualistic methodology of accumulating and purging traces of the past with a repetitive intentionality and tactile specificity. Some works are documents of transformative gestures; some are formed by breaking down and gathering residual materials; still other techniques are based on time-intensive processes of construction or reconfiguring from these remnants.
Prior Engagements (2011) is formed from the deconstruction of six gold rings, a bracelet, and a baby pendant, all inherited by the artist from her great-grandmother, great-aunt, and grandmothers. Delores melted down the gold from these pieces of jewelry to create a raw nugget, alchemically melding together objects that are individually held as precious and are imbued with personal histories, erasing the processes of their original crafting into a lump of unformed matter. There is a private, quiet violence to this disassemblage. The tiny lumpen gold ingot recalls an Eva Hesse or a Louise Bourgeois materialist sensibility, but in the artist’s intentional de-creation of it, the object suggests a more contemporary, conceptual nuance. Delores displaces the pieces of jewelry from previous economies and histories, stripping away all sentimental or easily readable exchange value within them. The gemstones are arranged on the wall in a kind of delicate, haphazard cataloging, held in place by tiny handmade brackets and specimen jars.
Much of the work in Residue consists of diptychs or clustered works grouped to highlight the relationships and negative spaces between objects. These arrangements form a kind of landscape in the space surrounding each grouping, so that the works in the exhibition begin to form a variable constellation. The diptych Residue (2011) consists of a large handmade spiral braided rag rug that looks like a large sun or eye. Made from six years of the artist’s discarded clothing, it hangs in conversation with a small circular frame of bright woven feathers taken from her parrot, The National Anthem—a black-capped lory. These two banners of parallel moltings concisely map the ways each creature’s bodily display individually marks the passage of time.
Delores collaborates with her bird again in Capillary Wave (2010). This piece consists of an elegant and tightly crafted blue and brown rectangular woven piece depicting a series of concentric ripples hanging next to a circular fragment of a woven basket that has been deconstructed by Delores’ bird. Together, the two pieces form a landscape of sun, land, and water, while the limp grid of the dangling warp threads
Mare Imperceptum, 2011; Duratrans lightbox; 30 x 40 in. Courtesy of the Artist and Martina Johnston Gallery, Berkeley.
Prior Engagements, 2011; mixed media; dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Martina Johnston Gallery, Berkeley.
balances out the dizzying, meticulous pattern of the fabric. Delores’ precise and skillful technique is given equal weight to the seemingly discarded object formed by the bird’s busy un-nesting work.
Initially, the artist’s inclusion of works formed by animal activity seems whimsical, but it underlines an interest in an experiential, nonverbal practice; it ascribes an agency to the animals and collapses the space between human and animal subjectivity. This gesture toward the erasure of difference is underscored by her inclusion of work by a parrot—an animal known for its distinctive form of mimicry. This level pairing of handmade and animal-made objects also draws attention to the imbalanced way in which we interact with the animal world.
Both Caffeine (2011) and Borne Witness (after Domenico Caramagno) (2011) document the impacts and reverberations of human violence imposed on animal life in the guise of scientific research or efficiency. Caffeine is a delicate, almost invisible piece, consisting of a web made of metallic thread and pins, modeled after a web created by a spider dosed with caffeine in a 1940s study of the effects of drugs on spiders. In contrast to the poetic reenactment of Caffeine’s web spinning, Borne Witness is a more straightforward memorial of traces left by dying bees poisoned with insecticide.
The work’s seriality and repeated spit bite aquatint circles display a kinship with a postminimalist aesthetic of repetitive mark-making, organic and geometric forms, and an attention to tactile materiality. In this way, they are reminiscent of Lucy Lippard’s 1966 exhibition Eccentric Abstraction. Melting and deconstructing as entropic processes also bring to mind the work and writings of Robert Smithson, who is referenced within a recorded 1979 slide lecture by Lippard that is included as part of a diptych annexed in another room. Lippard’s talk at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture was based on her research for her seminal 1983 book Overlay, which traces a genealogy of prehistoric land art, public gardens, and modernist earthworks.
The projected Lippard images are paired with a slideshow that alternately documents a sunset and Delores’ reinterpretation of a Kukeri, a traditional Bulgarian ritual in which men dressed in furs, masks, and bells dance to chase away evil spirits and to ensure a fertile crop year. The figure, dressed in Delores’ skillfully constructed costume, appears to move backward away from the camera, creating a surreal sense of time flowing simultaneously forward and backward. In one sense, the non-synchronous pairing of Lippard’s text and images with the fragmented dance of the Kukeri configures Delores’ piece as an academic object lesson and Lippard’s muffled disembodied voice and idiosyncratic commentary as a found object. But the paired screens are also a way of framing Lippard’s broad-based, dynamic approach to research as parallel to Delores’ methodology. This work also appears to be an homage and acknowledgement of the influence of Lippard and the artists who are part of this lineage.
Delores’ strategy of folding this long history that Lippard has sketched out into her own exhibition recalls her other processes of melting or compressing—a kind of erasure of formal or temporal distinction. In Residue, Delores has formed a series of mini-monuments to a palpable, intentional entropy.
Residue is on view at Martina Johnston Gallery, in Berkeley, through May 22, 2011.