3.05.2009

lindsey world (went global).




for a couple of years, i shared a studio with Lindsey Whittle, an amazing woman whose approach to making art blasts through easy categorization and unapologetically draws from pop culture, contemporary fashion, and an aesthetics of shape/color/composition that owe largely to Modernist and Abstract Expressionist sensibilities.

last year she moved to japan and, while teaching English to high school students, maintains an impressively active studio practice. Recently Lindsey sent images of new projects to various friends in the states, hoping to get feedback, suggestions, criticism.

later in the spring i have plans to curate her into an exhibition i am currently plotting. i've decided to dig around and place some of her new works into an art historical context, and attempt to describe my experience of them. this will allow her to receive my thoughts, but also to boast over the quality of this work, and to use it as another place for my note-making about this exhibition. i'll try to set up her work, giving a little back story and making connections between different projects; then i'll try to dig into some of the experiences one has with the work, artists that are brought up in her visual conversations, and a discussion of what this work does as art.

Whittle's degree in painting continues to stay evident in a lot of the drawings, collaged works, and painting-based projects that she makes. these are populated by irregular shapes in bright colors that bring up play as a mode of working in the studio. I like the term critical play, which suggests that experimentation, risk, and discovery are meant to happen during the use of materials, as well as during time considering the work, journalling, or however else artists deal in their ideas. working with children a great deal, and also collaborating with performance artists and doing projects in her own art that have elements of games, dress up, and fantasy has laced most of her work with a performative element, even if it is sometimes implied rather than enacted. the drawing directly above is enclosed in a plastic envelope, with many of the shapes free-floating so that they can be shaken around and played with. i find this hysterical in one sense, because it is a loony, pleasant retaliation to Hans Hofmann's pursuit of the perfect composition, believing that he could find "the right" placement for shapes and rectangles in his paintings.




the drawings are sometimes intended as preparatory work towards sculptures. this is just one of the several ways that i think Lindsey Whittle should be considered in the lineage of Louise Bourgeois, whose own Insomnia Drawings (a huge inspiration in my life) are implicitly involved in the sculptures and installations she produces. observe:

drawing...



then sculptures.




other things in common with Bourgeois is the abstraction + internalization of the figure, the fluid integration of personal interests and biography with art history and art problems, and the easy movement from medium to medium, however they serve an end goal. my friend creates bodies of work that become inhabitable conceptual spaces, populated with the objects that come about from her sculptures (this is also a very Bourgeois idea).





this yellow form is part of a new series of objects that are made from a lycra she's found in japan stuffed with other fabrics so that graphic and cultural information can be gleaned through the different holes in the exterior 'skin' of the work. for almost as long as i have known her, Whittle has made various versions of biomorphic sculptures. these are often made in fabric, but have also been made from cut out shapes of plywood and carpet, bulky polystyrene forms nearly as large as a refrigerator, and clunky bundles of black clothing that have been polyurethaned and (if i remember correctly?) soldered upon.

these biomorphs are almost always (in my mind) versions of bodies that are meant to be stripped of a lot of the defining details of human bodies while still aiming to get at the girth, sensuous curves, and appendages that make up the figure. there have been different situations where these sculptures have been worn (and what else is the extreme forms of haute couture if not wearable sculpture?), like here, where my twin brother was one of the dance performers wearing her objects:

even now, one of her most recent works constitute at least a garment, although subversions of how a garment is taken to be meant may be in question.

part of what i'm attracted to in these giant green pants is that they feel like they fuse aesthetics from east and west, along with something alien, referencing fashion avant gardes from the 1990s (and maybe a little earlier). The earliest I could find in the way of images of Comme des Garcons came from the 2000s, but it's safe to say that the ideas one can see in these garments come from precedents Rei Kawakubo established earlier on in her career:



More recently, additional fashion houses have gotten a little more gumption to distort, expound, or abstract the figure with the forms their clothing takes. These Balenciaga pieces from 2008 have always reminded me of Lindsey's art:

i think these are subtle, the shoulder and hips and the way parts of the garments fit together, but they have sculptural considerations that change the shape of the body, and i find that idea interesting.





While Lindsey Whittle's work operates in sutleties at times, she herself explained to me recently how she envisions her art projects being combinations of Saturday morning cartoons and the explosive sections of Handel's Messiah. She engages her loves of basic visual building blocks rampantly and passionately, generating compositions that are as beguilingly awkward as often as they are symphonic in their sense of celebration. Compare some of her sensibilities with this print by Lynda Benglis (like Warhol's blue images of Jackie, I believe Benglis to be an undercurrent through many of the expressive visual objects being made and appreciated today. Look for constant references to her work):





Like Benglis and Bourgeois (who have been gracefully paired often enough by Cheim & Read Gallery that represents them both), while her art sometimes gives deliberate reference to the body in pieces that are wearable and conjure dialogues about fashion, her sculptures and installation projects contain largely proportioned physical presence. In some cases like this early installation element from a performance piece she created (see below... and i hope she's not embarrassed that i am pulling up older words to reinforce some of my observations), Whittle steps away from direct use of fashion forms a little by creating this dresslike object that is abstracted and has received painting and collage:


I wish she (and I) could have seen the full exhibition of Franz West's work in Baltimore. His ideas, as people describe them, juggle with critical play, interactive body works, pushing sculptures into things one carries, wears, sits on like furniture, and responds to directly in one's own body rather than just conceptually. Am I crazy to bring a little of Joan Jonas up when I think about West? He is much more aestheticized, never abandoning the sensual pleasure of color, object-ness, textures played against one another. But, like Jonas, visual objects are pushed into performative territory



a new love in my life is a brilliant, non-American art magazine called Art World. In the current issue I just got, there is an involved piece about Franz West's 'serious play.' And this amazing sculpture:

I may continue adding to this post as things occur to me. To be sure, this artist friend of mine (who I am awaiting approval to use her name on the internet) deserves more and better critical dialogue than I am providing here. And yes, I am totally unobjective. But I hope this little pile of words and references builds some references, gives some ideas of how I see her work, and opens some ideas up for me, you and her.

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