Through Our Eyes: NYC
Exhibition and Panel Discussion
Jan 9, 2004 - Art In General, NYC
The very complex visual language, evident in the artists’
works, exchanged fluidly among peers without comment from
the outside. Our material remained in our own hands to see
it as a community of ideas, free from the commercial avenues
of exchange and entertainment. In the process, we began to
recognize our voice-the artist’s voice- as a powerful
one that has always had a major role in defining history.
In organizing the series, I was asking- what were the subsurface
implications of the historical moment? For insight, I turned
to my own community of painters, sculptors, filmmakers, photographers,
printmakers, performance artists, installation artists and
their hybrids. The nature of their work is to actively reflect
and interpret a world that extends from personal to mythic,
cultural to conceptual, and intuitive to classic. The many
artists represented with their craft, depth of person, and
fluidity of vision offer not specific answers but create ways
of seeing that shift our awareness to new points.
By focusing on what downtown artists have to show and say,
the Arist Studio Tours of Lower Manhattan is generating a
conversation with widespread implications. The events surrounding
9/11 become a focus that recovers and centers dialogue as
part of a healing process.
What follows are my impressions and reflections based on
each artist’s work. There are ways in which I inevitably
string the work together. Work that is not absolute and not
necessarily about 9/11 but all happening within an historic
time frame. Sometimes these elements were always present in
the artists work and sometimes we can see assimilation of
the impact. The dialogue between the artists was important
in this process.
Painter, Ross Neher, addresses boundaries inspired by the
fortress walls that surrounded Sforza during Leonardo’s
time in Italy. The view of the fortress is calculated in terms
of one point perspective. Neher makes use of exquisite color
and the notion of blockade. Intuition and stronghold are vivid
and haunting in his new work.
Neher’s fortress has a relation to Katy Martin’s
painted skin where the skin becomes a kind of shelter. By
painting her skin and photographing it, Martin’s extreme
explorations of surface extend inner and outer reaches.
Nancy Davidson’s balloon-like forms, trap the breath
inside. On thin edginess popping is immanent. Davidson’s
taboos come out of a feminist tradition. There is sexuality
in our towers and humor in our grandiosity.
April Vollmer’s work is about metamorphosis. The exacting
work of age-old printmaking coupled with a scientific interest
in inspects transcends in a classic architecture. Human anatomical
change is coupled with temporal awareness and like 9/11, architecture,
defines the parameters of that change.
Rather than one perspective Michael Zwack has his feet on
two islands, one here and one in Haiti. Multiple properties
in his paintings are simultaneous yet displaced, with a photographic
sensibility, symbolism, language and pattern relieve like
a dream offering through his touch specificity and world.
His work is understood here as well as in Haiti.
From visual image to written language flows history into
the future and roots us to our most basic selves. Robert Janz’s
stones painted with glyphic watermarks are reinserted in the
bottoms of streams. They draw our attention to the flow. The
murmur in Zwack’s work comes from the way he uses the
many languages of his paintings. Sometimes that murmur evokes
a world that makes sense an sometimes a tower of Babel. Photographer
Gwenn Thomas returns language back to image, rerouting the
contemplation of signs through the photographic medium.
The dense physical surfaces of Edward Shalala’s paintings
are like pieces of turf. Volume is achieved not by gradation
or contrast but by matter itself. Color crawls in and out
of the surface like combat. His roots as an Arab-American
raised on American army bases in places like Morocco and Bangkok
make New York’s melting pot a familiarity. A sense of
abandon and a sense of timidity give the sheer abstraction
Jo Wood-Brown’s 42 tar image of one open-mouthed singer
reduces the body to its prime substance. The installation
“Sounds” creates a population, a guttural lament
in a constant state of change. Viscous tar surfaces from thick
to transparent create space while the gesture reaches through
the material sometimes increasing the flow, sometimes halting
it. The three walls of installation place the viewer central
to the underlying flow of substance and gesture.
What has happened to perceptual objectivity? Gwenn Thomas
creates an alternate zone neither solely photography nor collage.
Her work like Sandi Slone’s is a hybrid that exists
in its own space. Hyper real photographs of her collages are
like a reverse documentation; we need touch to confirm. Images
of fabric remnants of clothing collect a history as well as
contain the time-based nature of a photograph or a film. Filmmaker,
Bill Brand commented that they really insist on the photographic
Sandi Slone, born from colliding two worlds together, can
glean two realities on one canvas. Waves of visceral, tactile
paint share impact with photographed three-dimensional tableaus
of aliens. Conceptually it is near impossible to imagine.
The hyper reality of 9/11 reached the levels of fiction and
catalyzed areas that are not accessible on an ordinary plane.
On the beach by Nevil Shute began to reverberate
in Slone’s work. Are our fantasies future realities?
“One after the other,” says Janz of Slone’s
work, “you would be continuing in a tunnel that would
suggest time travel and movement into the deep future.”
Right after the tradegy, Barbara Friedman contemplated a
world that had left us. Friedman drives home a sensibility
that has one eye to the future and one to the past; the present
is the blurred distincition between the two. We register the
fact after the moment has passed. Moving to within blocks
of the WTC four years ago, Friedman’s focud shifted
to her surroundings. She began making paintings that questioned
position in the financial world: The Taking of the Federal
Reserve and Self-Portrait as a Window Washer.
“Barbara Friedman’s painting of the barbeque”
said Michael Zwack, “is the post 9/11 image of America.”
The embers burning down in the pit are charcoal; also coincidently
symbolic of the relationship between colonialism and deforestation.
The backyards of America are open territory in this painting.
The barbeque is not just a patriotic symbol, but ominous,
about death and the barbeque revealed itself after it was
Friedman comments, “Gwenn Thomas’ Flag
(1993), is an evocative image in the context of 9/11.”
This piece was a kind of accident, a sensibility that continues
to incorprate the unexpected in Thomas’ work. This pivotal
piece marked the beginning of a hybrid reality in her work,
the photo collages on linen.
Bill Brand, in these video works that constitute Suite,
family history, memory, medicine and disease are imbedded
in trauma and survival. “9/11 serves more as a confirmation
of an already perceived transience and so feels more like
a marker along the way than a divider of before and after.”
said Brand. His translation of life happens at many levels.
The WTC catastrophe pitted vivid experience against symbolic
reality and Brand’s work carries these elements without
forcing them. His work sustains a seamless intersection of
Silence accompanies hand written entries in Brand’s
film, My Father’s Leg. The silence is inner
and the leg is outer. They merge so simply our emotion and
his are one. Continuity, non-absolute in terms of genetics,
jockeys frame upon frame in the sequencing.
Over time Edward Shalala’s surface like bandages after
many years become unnecessary. The beauty in his work now
is uncovered. It is like an unexpected metamorphosis. In Nancy
Davidson’s recent sculpture the balloons buoyancy exchanges
for gravity, filled with sand, they are slung over the chairs
There is a large painting in process on Mimi Gross’s
studio wall. It is hard to gage the finished size. The scale
evokes the historic. The group is of art ‘watchers.’
The artist watching the art watcher is an interesting premise.
‘Who is watching who’ is a question. As with Wood-Brown,
the focus is on sustaining presence. The exchange of stories
with Gross and her subjects are contained within her work.
For Gross, 9/11 is like a new concept, imposing absence, and
In front of us Robert Janz begins to draw with water in
a rock. His performance evokes an artist storyteller. The
water evaporates in the course of our visit. The event becomes
a kind of erasure. Life is waxed and waned by Janz’s
work, opening and closing like the lifespan of a flower; the
moon’s phases-cyclical and constant, here and gone.
New drawings are moments continually reverberating. His work
travels through bodies of water and the World Wide Web. A
website drawing evokes a whacked out Statue of Liberty, perhaps
a new creation myth-born of loss in our world. Martin and
brand as well, make the human mythic.
Martin has the eye of a filmmaker; she removes to a particular
body part an unexpected view. Her art distills and escalates
through the tactile and examines itself finally in print.
A reverse anthropomorphizing frees the images of land, vessel,
body and architecture. From point A to B is not a logical
journey. In a collaborative film, Skinside Out with
husband, Bill Brand, we move inside and outside of their creative
relationship as 9/11 removed any pretense of boundary. In
Martin’s latest work the simultaneous roles of performer
and filmmaker exchange. The painting on her body alters with
her movement against the black ground that itself leaves its
traces on the wet paint of her body.
In these traces of the unfathomable a member of the Through
Our Eyes panel audience asks, “How do you deal with
the desire to go toward and away from?”