ValedictionSeptember 30, 2013
Valediction, at Electric Works, is a collaborative exhibition of drawings on paper and Mylar by Amanda Hughen and Jennifer Starkweather, known together as Hughen/Starkweather.
The exhibition uses the recently decommissioned eastern span of the Bay Bridge as a starting point―the sole video piece even documents the pair’s last trip across the bridge. Hughen/Starkweather traded the pieces in the exhibition between their studios until they were deemed complete, with some artworks making several trips back and forth. All of the works on paper, such as Valediction 3, from the Bay Bridge Project (2013), feature geometric patterns, marks suggestive of sea and landscape, and pigment dispersions that appear influenced by the duo’s research and site visits, which took place over several years as the new eastern span was constructed.
Valediction 2, from the Bay Bridge Project (2013), includes a central, mountain-like form rendered in an accumulation of tiny, sandy dots and flanked by a fog-like dispersion of blue-gray gouache pigment. Its streaky orange geometric patterns, suggestive of the bridge structure, recall fire, sunsets, or taillights. The works' surface textures and pigment reticulation evoke the corrosion and accumulated car emissions of the now defunct bridge, built seventy-five years ago to support trains.
Requiem (The Last Drive) (2013), a video taken from the lower deck of the decommissioned eastern span, focuses on the undercarriage of the above deck, catching a whizzing glimpse of the struts and beams. The video’s minimalist aesthetic and descending horizontal lines recall Joan Jonas’ 1972 experimental video Vertical Roll. But rather than dealing with the artist’s body, as Jonas's work does, Hughen/Starkweather’s video focuses on the bridge as an object. Unlike the drawings, which treat the structure as an emotional symbol for the Bay Area itself, the video links the repeated geometric grids to the artists’ physical subject matter.
Hughen/Starkweather’s images are poetic, and the exhibition reads like an improvised visual conversation. Like much good jazz music, these works focus on rhythm and elaboration. Their intimate size allows for the possibility that they were made on site, from observation. However, the compositions are concise and balanced, qualities that suggest time spent contemplating in the studio.