Suzanne Silver, "Untitled (Triangle)", abaca linter, pigmented pulp, thread

French sociologist Pierre Bordieu contended that all art functions as coded meaning for his study on art museums and their visitors in The Love of Art (1990).   Differentiating between lower level of meanings – “superficial [and] fragmentary” – and higher level of meanings – which “incorporate and transform” – Bordieu maintained that both responses created some ascertainable and bodily sense of pleasure.  Ultimately, he advocated for a higher level of meaning.   In order to reach this understanding, the fragmentary codes, or systems, must be sifted through frame-by-frame in order to extract a fully developed narrative.  Such is the case with Suzanne Silver’s Cartoon Geometry currently at Aisle Gallery.

Although latent with possibilities for meaning, the exhibition presents itself visually as restrained and unassuming.  Situated in a small space on the third floor of a large warehouse, the dingy off-white cinderblock walls, exposed duct work, and painted bluish-grey, sloping hardwood floors resemble every other repurposed industrial site.  The work itself is almost easy to overlook in its subdued palette of neutral colors accented by shiny metallic surfaces and a few well-placed vibrant hues.

Cartoon Geometry, an installation, is situated in the main gallery, which is well lit by natural light from three large windows.  In the center of the room is a table, covered in a metallic tablecloth with loose pieces of canvas hanging off three sides.  On the top of the table sit cut pieces of felt, applied metallic dovetail “joints,” discarded plastic, and other typical artist-studio detritus.  These same types of items pepper the remainder of the room.  The installation is made complete by ten small wooden carts covered in felt, plastic, or metal, and supported on canisters that sit directly on the floor.  Situated off the main room, eight intimate handmade paper works hang along an extended, dimly lit hallway.  The reception space presents the viewer with Gameboard Geometry, another wooden piece that resembles the table filled with debris in the main installation, and LP Geometry, a series of reinterpreted vinyl record covers and sleeves.

Initially, Silver’s installations reminded me of the work of Joseph Beuys, especially his carefully considered correlations between material and interpretation.  Like Silver, Beuys used felt, wood, and metallic wrap.  But for Beuys, the artist’s biography predicated a multi-layered but specific, coded path for meaning.  Think of his performance pieces How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965) or I Like America and America Likes Me (1974).  In contrast, Silver’s own artist statement for the exhibition leaves final interpretation open-ended.  In the statement, she peripatetically traces such grandiose but dichotomous ideas as utopia and failure or the mathematical and poetic possibilities of geometry.

With her writing, it is possible to glimpse her layered way of thinking.  This layering is further advocated through her use of disparate materials:  soft felt vs. shiny metal wrap, hard wood vs. handmade paper, or crumbled paper vs. sewn objects.  She has combined heterogeneous concepts and materials, both metaphorically and physically, to create relationships between objects and space that speak to a larger narrative.  We might call it a series of frames.  Framing was a central component to philosopher Jacques Derrida’s understanding of language. For Derrida, the frame creates meaning by juxtaposing different concepts against one another.  Therefore, what lies outside the boundary of the frame creates the meaning for what is being framed.  Only that which is outside of the boundary makes the thing being framed visible.  This give and take between two systems ultimately relies on the relationship between objects or concepts within time and space.

Let us think of framing in relationship to the small handmade paper works.  Beautiful and fragile, each piece borders between delicate, precious object and discarded paper tacked onto the wall.  Even the motifs on the paper, such as a small blue triangle surrounded by an off-white expanse of paper, establish a push and pull between subject and expanse.  Or consider how the frame plays out within the installation.  Compact pieces, spread out around a minimally filled room, all sit low onto the floor.  If we consider the relationship between negative and positive space, it becomes apparent that negative space is as much a factor as the objects present.  But move one of the carts or pieces of felt ever so slightly and we have disrupted the frame of negative space.  Yet that negative space is given a way out, an escape, through the inclusion of the three windows.  No longer trapped within the cinderblock walls, the windows allow for the possibility of a third frame, which further informs the meaning within the gallery and the installation itself.

Ontologically, these relationships formed by the frame allow the viewer to project what Bordieu advocate; namely, a higher meaning that transforms the work from simple, seemingly discardable objects.  Instead, the work transcends to a priori ideas such as being and existence.  If we consider the frame and its importance to interpretation, we can see how Silver’s works simultaneously allow for a contrasting narrative that negotiates the larger meaning between positive and negative, utopia and dystopia, and even being and time.

Suzanne Silver, Cartoon Geometry, May 11-June 8, 2012 at Aisle Gallery, 424 Findlay St., Cincinnati, OH 45214, Monday-Friday 1-4.

–Amanda Dalla Villa Adams

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