For the most part, human beings are a verbal species. Since time before recorded history, people have utilized language, both written and spoken, to communicate with one another. The exhibit Textuality : Art Incorporating Text and Letterforms, now on display at Manifest Gallery, sets out to explore the notion of text and wordplay via the construct of a fine art gallery setting. In the exhibit’s statement, the natural correlation and overlap between the written letter/word and drawn line is noted. To write is to draw, after all. This show is “the verbal made visual and where language returns to image” which perhaps was how human kind communicated in the first place, before the written word.
The show is situated in the entry room of the gallery space so the viewer is immediately confronted by the work at hand. Upon entering the space, one most immediately eye-catching piece of work is that of Zac Weinberg, Uncertainty in the Face of Doubt which is a neon-sign styled piece assertively commanding us to “Believe”. This piece is electronic, lit up in cornflower blue and well crafted. Along with the other large scale work entitled Foundations of Sand by Christian Faur, Weinberg’s piece acts as a visual co-anchor amidst other more traditional and two-dimensional works.
Faur’s piece is, at first glance, a muted grayscale portrait of a farmhouse. But upon closer inspection it’s crafted of shredded bits of text- covered shredded paper in varying values to create the image portrayed from afar. In addition to the lettered slips of paper, there is the added element of gold leaf edged on some of the shreds as well as a gold plated cast lamb’s heart included in the frame of the work. There is no statement to accompany the elements of this piece so the viewer is left to interpret the work as best as possible. It is intriguing nonetheless.
It is interesting that the notion of ‘text’ should be interpreted by so many artists in what might be considered a non-textual fashion as stated above. There are lovely collaged images by Trudy Borenstein-Sugiura and Billy Renkl, and a sculptural work by Megan Mattax (byproduct: kän,den’sāSH(ə)n that really speaks to a ‘world of language’, presented as a globe of sorts, crafted of discarded dictionaries, thread, ink, gesso, and epoxy resin. It is not lost on this reviewer that most of these materials are traditional book-making supplies.
And then there are a number of works which are, in the traditional way of text and lettering and such, crafted in two-dimensions, with paints and inks on paper; printed commercially as well as more traditionally in a carved wood-block or printer’s press manner. These works shine in their ability to accomplish two or more jobs at once. They are artfully executed, well-crafted images in their own right, and yet carry the burden of language within their shape.
Ian Cross’s work, Inner Speech reads as an abstracted illustration of an over-grown forested landscape. In Cheryl Wassenaar’s works Pause 1 & 11, utilizing commercial signage, I am reminded of the spare, shape driven language of the sculptural work of Louis Nevelson. Craig Briar’s printed works Post Truth and A Smatter of Fact both lurch the viewer back into a modern state of political awareness without mentioning any names.
It is difficult to escape the current here and now of our dramatic political landscape, especially when contemplating the printed word and the meaning of words themselves. Manifest’s Textuality exhibit does a fine job of delivering to the viewer the escape from reality that art can often offer -through beauty, provocation of thought, and creative manipulation of materials, while still challenging us to remember what’s at stake, especially in these challenging modern times, through the avenue of the printed word.
This show runs through September 14, 2018 at the Manifest Gallery in Walnut Hills, Cincinnati, Ohio.