A Thousand Invisible Threads | Mapping the Rhizome at the Herndon Gallery at Antioch College, finds its influence from Deleuze’s and Guttarai’s postmodern classic, A Thousand Plateaus. A theme is the rhizome, a biological term for a type of root structure, used as a metaphor for philosophy, social structures, or ways of thinking that are non-hierarchical, heterogeneous, multiplicitous, and acentered. But A Thousand Invisible Threads reminds me that Deleuze and Guttarai weren’t the first thinkers (or artists) to, at risk of oversimplifying, introduce rhizomatic thinking or notice that we ought to think a bit less dualistically.

The show is curated by Jennifer Wenker, the creative director at Herndon, and Michael Casselli, a professor of sculpture at Antioch. Curators of a show like this could exhibit disparate artworks and use the rhizome and its connotations of “connectedness” as a loose unifying theme. This show takes the more difficult but more rewarding route, presenting a cohesive, albeit challenging, statement about the threads connecting us; threads that we’ve always felt in our bones but are frustratingly or refreshingly, depending on how you look at things, invisible. This cohesive statement is made in the form of sculpture, video installation (which is really also sculpture in the Bueyseian sense), collage, photography, and, I would argue, painting, despite there being no actual paint in the show (more about that later).

Tom Fruin uses thread to sew together postage-stamp size heroin, cocaine and crack bags that he collects from projects and other sites he visits. At a distance the hundreds of bags knitted together resemble Shaker and pastel quilts. These drug quilts, the largest measuring 60” x 102”, are simultaneously things of beauty and devastation. Fruin is expertly working with contrasts.

Overview: Lillian Wald Houses, Drug Bags and thread, 60”x102”. Courtesy of the artist and Herndon Gallery.

Fruin’s quilts are a reminder that one purpose of great art is to synthesize contradictions to get at the paradoxical idea (one that Deleuze would appreciate) that to arrive at a poetic understanding of a thing we need to first make connections with its contradictions. In the case of Fruin’s quilts, he makes connections between ugliness and beauty with a direct rawness that recalls arte povera with a distinctly American ethos.

Mari Andrews for Collected Topography collected richly colored soil from thirty sites around the United States and placed them each in a separate lead container. The malleable and toxic raw-lead container has been hand formed and left to patina. This seemingly simple gesture is not only beautifully delicate but runs quite deep in meaning, implicating the rich histories of Western painting and sculpture, environmentalism, physics and time.

Collected Topography, Lead and Soil. Courtesy of the artist and Herndon Gallery.

It must have been a very thoughtful and deliberate decision by the curators to include no traditional painting in this exhibit (we know there’s plenty of paintings available exploring Deleuze’s rhizome, most of it bad). Instead, Wenker and Casselli include Andrews’ Collected Topography, which reads as a deconstructed painting. We won’t delve into deconstruction – we’re in Deleuze territory, not Derrida – but suffice it to say I believe an artwork can have independent meaning without reference to other signs, and Collected Topography has such meaning.  Certain of the dirt samples are very close in color and mineral composition to ochres and siennas, pigments steeped in the history of Western painting. The dark patinated lead containers invoke, at least conceptually, silky but highly toxic Lead White paint, created by scraping the rust of lead. Aside from its intrinsic beauty, this work can be thought of (and felt) as an integration of the great cultures of sculpture, land art (recalling the simple gestures of Andy Goldsworthy or David Nash), and, most metaphorically but also most interestingly, painting.

Andrews also shows wire sculptures integrating nuts, seeds and other of nature’s detritus that from a distance look like minimal drawings made directly on the wall. Closer up the viewer can see the twists and turns of the hand formed wire and intricate joinery of the wire to, say, an acorn. The works are primitive and ancient. I think of Agnes Martin’s rigorous yet joyous grid paintings when I look at Andrew’s wire sculptures, even though they are nothing alike in a formal sense. Perhaps one of those invisible threads connects them. But then, not a day goes by that I don’t think about all the thoughts that have occurred to me that I may be dead wrong about.

Leah Stahl is a photographer recently diagnosed with a brain condition that left her vision sprinkled with dots and her hands temporarily unable to hold a camera. Her series Hemispheres: A Temporary Record of How Light Gets In uses the chemicals prescribed to treat her illness with camera-less photography techniques like Mordencage and pinhole photography. The results are celestial, galactic, atomic, molecular, nostalgic, melancholic, miniature yet massive, healing, cathartic. One photograph reads, probably unintentionally at a conscious level, as a Chinese Song Dynasty landscape with its emphasis on emptiness and a small tree like structure arising from the bottom left corner of the photograph. It is not a landscape by intention; rather, the creep of the pharmaceuticals used to treat Stahl’s disease exposed to light creates a landscape by emergence.

Another photographer, Juan-Si Gonzalez, captures digital stills of haunting images of glitches in television commercials, where the pixelated images trail off into the abyss between abstraction and realism (not that there’s much a difference, in the end). This is the same abyss where quite a bit of great art is found. Gonzalez is Cuban born, making his photographic observations into the imperfections of capitalist advertising all the more interesting. A Jewish American, Toby Millman, also makes an interesting comment on cultural (and religious) relations by cutting paper to create mysterious maps of restricted access areas on the West Bank of Palestine. What could be rivers or roads protrude from the cut paper like delicate lines that belie the atrocities that might actually happen on those roads or rivers. These works are pertinent to Jewish and Palestinian (or Philistia) relations dating back to the Old Testament. That they are made on paper is not insignificant.

Each artwork in A Thousand Invisible Threads could individually command a review of its own. As a whole, the show is a succinct and disciplined meditation on the connection between things; between traditional western art mediums and practices, between cultures, between art’s relationship with physics, the environment, philosophy and nature, and between art and our lives. It is a question and not an answer, and a step in the direction of breaking down dualities without foregoing the art object. Now is the perfect time to make the trip to Antioch and Herndon Gallery to view this thoughtful exhibit, installed amidst (and perhaps to accentuate) the Shaker like minimalism of the Herndon Gallery. Do it before the leaves are gone, staying off the highways. On your drive think about the unlikely connections between the French postmodern intellectuals and the elegant austerity of farmhouse architecture, which you’ll see a lot of on the way to Yellow Springs.

–Matthew Metzger

Matthew Metzger is an artist, designer and furniture maker based in Cincinnati.  His paintings are represented locally by Miller Gallery, and his furniture by Voltage, as well as other galleries and design showrooms nationally.  His website is www.metzgerfinearts.com.


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