Opening a Can at Et al. etc.


Opening a Can at Et al. etc.

By Sienna Freeman April 24, 2018

Upon entering Et al. etc.’s exhibition Opening a Can, featuring work by Dana Dart-McLean, Johanna Jackson, and Morgan Ritter, viewers are greeted by a pair of hand-felted slippers placed parallel atop a piece of loose-leaf paper, sitting on the floor. Soft, woolly, and warm-looking, they are empty, but upright, with heels butted up against the edge where the concrete floor meets the white wall. Standing in front of these slippers and staring straight ahead, a viewer’s line of sight meets a demure ceramic mirror that hangs on the wall, secured by four small silver nails. For this viewer, just shy of 5 feet, 7 inches tall, the mirror’s shiny surface reflected fractures of my features. My own eyes, ears, and mouth registered as both familiar and strange, just as the stretch of empty white wall between Mirror (2018) and Slippers (2018)—both made by Jackson—implies the presence of an absent body. When poised erect and toe-to-toe to with the unoccupied slippers, and my eyes locked with the circular lens of the mirror, my own torso, arms, and legs seemed to fill in for the rest of this missing form.

Opening a Can, installation view, Et al. etc. Johanna Jackson. Mirror, 2018; ceramic, mirror; 5.5 x 6.5 x 0.5 inches. Dana Dart-McLean. Light House with Opposing Leaves, 2018; papier-mâché, gouache, cardboard, clamps; 24 x 16 x 3.5 inches. Johanna Jackson. Slippers, 2018; felt; 9.5 x 9.5 x 3 inches. Courtesy of the Artists and Et al. etc. Photo: Sienna Freeman.

To the right of Mirror and Slippers, at about knee-level, Dana Dart-McLean’s Light House with Opposing Leaves (2018) is reminiscent of a flattened moving box that has not yet been fully deconstructed. Jutting from the wall at a 90-degree angle, its almost-two-dimensional form and abrupt orientation direct attention to another series by the artist across the room. Self Portrait/Landscapes (2018) is a grouping of wall-hung sculptures made from papier-mâché that appears to have been folded and unfolded repeatedly, and then molded into precarious shapes. The resulting physical traces of these actions appear naturally integrated into the papier-mâché’s brightly painted patterned surfaces. Although displayed at varying heights within the range of “eye level,” the work’s tactility begs instead to be felt by palms or fingers. The work’s materiality is in dialog with viewers’ own bodies here, a reminder of how processes and exchanges shared with certain objects or materials can be articulated by memories stored in one’s hands. 

Traces of corporeal actions are encountered again in Ritter’s Venn Diagram of Subjects Who Don’t Belong in a Venn Diagram (2010–2018), a rectangular textile piece that hangs, back-lit, against a street-facing window. Here, a patchwork chick is embroidered on translucent, tie-dyed silk, hovering over two ovum-shaped text bubbles; the left reads “soft boiled egg” and the right says “body?”.  As passersby on the street move behind the work’s semi-sheer surface, thus disrupting its querying image, shadows from an ambiguous crowd fill in for the missing body implied in the text—now multiple in form. Ideas around the collective body are expanded upon in Ritter’s There is No Fixed Position (on Protection Blanket) (2017–2018). Here, a generic, blue-black moving blanket is stretched taut and secured vertically to the wall, displaying a surface embellished with hundreds of tiny, silver “pigtail girl”1 charms dangling on multicolored strings. Hanging in the blanket’s upper-middle, a framed drawing depicts a yellow magnifying glass below the hand-written text, “There is no fixed position.” Empowered by this phrase, I imagined the blanket freed from the wall, shaken out, wrapped around a valuable object, or neatly folded. I considered what it would be like to use the magnifying glass to closely inspect the charms in variable positions. Notions around vantage point, privilege, and gendered hierarchies came to mind, inspired by the inherent properties and uses of the work’s found-textile form.

Falling under Howard Risatti’s taxonomy of craft as a set of objects and materials defined as “containers, coverings, and supports,"2  most of the objects in Opening a Can share formal and material associations with items that are intended to serve and protect the human body. Blankets, slippers, and mirrors, and the materials these objects are made of (textiles, clay, and glass), are often affiliated with human physiological needs and domestic space. However, instead of serving the body, the works in Opening a Can call to mind notions about the transitory nature of the human condition, without visualizing the human figure at all. When shown together, Dart-McLean, Jackson, and Ritter’s works evoke an absent body made present through strategic positioning, encoded materials, and not-quite usable forms. Often, the absent body (or bodies) appeared to walk in tandem with my own. 

Opening a Can is on view at Et al. etc. in San Francisco through April 28, 2018.


  1. In the list of works for the exhibition, There is No Fixed Position (on Protection Blanket) (2017–2018) specifically calls this found material “pigtail girl charms.” See image caption for full materials list.  
  2. Howard Risatti, A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Appreciation (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2007,) 22–33.

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