Valediction

Review

Valediction

By Mary Anne Kluth September 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.

But the works in Valediction are anything but simple documentation. Requiem 22, from the Bay Bridge Project (2013), done in gouache, ink, and pencil on Mylar, bears thin, mechanical hatch marks that have been covered with translucent white ink grids. The wall can be seen through the materials, their insubstantiality suggesting an ephemeral memory, one already ghostly and fading.
 
Hughen/Starkweather, Requiem 22 from the Bay Bridge Series, 2013. Gouache, pencil, and ink on paper  

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.

In the past Hughen/Starkweather have created larger-scale works, such as Between above and below (2007), their Art on Market Street project for the San Francisco Arts Commission, which also dealt with movement and transformation. It would be interesting to see more monumental-scale work from them. Their palette creates a nostalgic mood, and their collaborative mark making results in intense and precariously balanced compositions. Exhibited together, the works build a nuanced, haunting portrait of a Bay Area icon.
 
Hughen/Starkweather, Valediction 3 from the Bay Bridge Series, 2013. Gouache, pencil, and ink on paper   
 

Valediction is on view at Electric Works, in San Francisco, through October 20, 2013.

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