January 13 – March 12, 2017
Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe
How do you sum up a solo exhibition? You could measure it in studio hours, or leagues of thought. Jill O’Bryan counted Mapping Resonance (January 13-March 12), her show at the Muñoz Waxman Gallery at Center for Contemporary Arts this winter, in breaths. Equipped with a Tonglen meditation practice and an array of earthy materials—graphite, charcoal, tea, India ink—she set out to capture abstracted impressions of the New Mexico landscape on the mesa she calls home.
Madelin Coit’s measuring tool for Interface, which occupied the Spector Ripps Project Space in the next room, was playful gestures. She set an intention to appear at CCA almost every Friday during the run of the show, adding spontaneous sculptural flourishes to an installation piece. Using issues of THE Magazine and other media such as wood, wire mesh, and landscape fabric, she would form a labyrinth of light and shadow across the walls. Viewers could return each week to experience the evolving show, their perceptions shifting with Coit’s creative flow.
Of course, a body of work should be more than the sum of its parts. I returned to these concurrent exhibitions a number of times, experiencing them through different gallery programs. In the end, one formed a powerful gestalt; the other did not.
At the opening reception on January 13, the bustling crowd overwhelmed O’Bryan’s subdued artworks. The artist had spread massive sheets of paper across the bare earth to create graphite frottages and gestural India ink and charcoal drawings. Her smudgy, monochrome records of the crumbling high desert terrain spanned CCA’s expansive walls but lacked heft on first viewing. They could pass for dashed-off tributes to Max Ernst (who invented the frottage technique on an old wooden floor) and Robert Motherwell.
The most assertive creations in the room were, in fact, not artworks at all. Long white palettes on the floor were pedestals for a series of small residue drawings, created by dipping paper into a metate filled with ink and tea. The palettes evoked minimalist sculpture, inserting straight edges and sharp corners into an exhibition of otherwise hazy lines and rounded forms. Mapping Resonance was created almost exclusively on a horizontal plane, so the instinct to display work on the ground was right. The execution, however, was jarring.
Long white palettes on the floor were pedestals for a series of small residue drawings, created by dipping paper into a metate filled with ink and tea.
Coit’s show was also eclipsed by a nearby furnishing at the opening, though perhaps more intentionally. The artist stood next to a giant block of THE Magazine back issues, surveying the seedlings of sculptures that hung on the walls around her. She had stapled layers and layers of material onto wooden boards that projected from the walls, employing a wavy vocabulary that she has developed in her more refined sculptural work. A tall white stand in one corner was also partially covered in ruffles. The works resembled blooms of jellyfish—or partially completed dresses by Alexander McQueen.
Coit has worked with newsprint in her practice before: when she was on a residency in Wyoming, she started using a local newspaper as a three-dimensional sketching medium. Even in the earliest phase of Interface, it was clear that THE Magazine was a vehicle for purely formal experimentation. Now was the time for the artist to roll up her sleeves and tear into the raw materials, turning out voluminous sculptures that would come crashing together. Two neon sculptures, which hung on either side of the show’s entrance, read “Now. . . Then” and “Now. . . When.” They were glowing markers of Coit’s self-imposed temporal challenge.
In early February, I returned to the space for a meditation workshop among the artworks of Mapping Resonance, lead by Chelsea Call. Works that were lost in the crowd at the reception suddenly spoke to me. A series of plaster cones on metal stands that stood in the corners of the space unified O’Bryan’s show around the theme of vessels, whether formed through erosion (in the case of the pocked mesa) or human effort (in the case of the metate). Two small graphite drawings on rice paper near the front of the show, which bore thousands of marks that O’Bryan made during her meditation practice, illuminated the mental and physical discipline of her practice.
The sculptures had taken animalistic shapes—one resembled a slug, another a swan—but two walls of the space were still almost completely bare.
Two Fridays after the opening of Interface, Coit’s cube of newsprint was still stacked high. The sculptures had slightly expanded in volume, but the biggest change in the exhibition was a pile of crumpled pages in the middle of the floor. Several weeks later, I returned for a close-looking tour of Interface with Elaine Ritchel of Santa Fe Art Tours. The sculptures had taken animalistic shapes—one resembled a slug, another a swan—but two walls of the space were still almost completely bare. We analyzed the show as an experiment devoted to spontaneity and play, but it seemed short on both.
As the exhibitions approached their closing date, local performing arts collective Uroboros debuted a performance piece inspired by Mapping Resonance. In one movement, they formed a line and danced directly across the space, using the aforementioned palettes as a funnel—or a momentary vessel—for their movement. This was the moment when every element of Mapping Resonance came into harmony for me. On the final Friday of Interface, I stopped by the show, and Coit was nowhere to be found. Her abandoned sculptures hung from the walls like wilted houseplants. Both shows reflected on presence; O’Bryan triumphed, while Coit was still just beginning.