Callicoon Fine Arts is pleased to present A Field of Meaning, a group exhibition organized by Lynn Maliszewski. The works in this exhibition investigate personal, non-linear narratives in conversation with authorized accounts of history. Utilizing photography, sculpture, painting, and mixed media, A Field of Meaning employs interference and intimacy as methods for challenging historical record.
Artists in this exhibition expose the false objectivity of history by way of research and intimate experience. Crystal Z Campbell lives in and researches the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, deemed “Black Wall Street” in the early twentieth century. As a counter-narrative to the legacy of violence and erasure that has defined Greenwood since the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Campbell reinterprets archival photographs of black women in moments of leisure. Textured paintings atop two seemingly banal images and a newly designed banner shift optics through abstraction, alluding to what theorist Saidiya Hartman calls “critical fabulation”—a technique of interrogating received narratives by way of considering events from isolated points of view.(1) The terms protagonist and antagonist are further disturbed by Shawné Michaelain Holloway’s book, installed on the ground. Holloway’s instructional manual for puppy-master power dynamics describes operative conditioning: a behavioral training method based on rewards and punishment. The work applies pressure to apparently simple parameters, offering a healthy scenario where seemingly submissive participants can hold the reigns.
Other works in this exhibition suggest our knowledge of history alone cannot enact a coherent resolution for issues that reappear in the present. Lyndon Barrois Jr. assembles magazine cut-outs, text, and references to everyday printing processes to investigate “stereotypography.” His works in this exhibit relate images from mass media to Neuland, a typeface designed by Rudolf Koch in 1923 in Germany—Koch hoped it could pronounce spiritual recovery in Europe after World War I; in America, it was used on cigarette cartons and in advertisements to cement stereotypes of the “exotic” or “primitive” Other.(2) In the story of Neuland, where discrimination is literally written into history, we all lose. Per Hartman, work forged with and against the archives also offers an opportunity to revisit these contested points of view.(3) Ajay Kurian’s sculpture, The Bather, illuminates a jagged smile behind a dark vinyl curtain. In the past, Kurian has used his sculptural practice to interrogate national symbols and “American” ideals by way of comedic, anthropomorphized characters. Here, Kurian’s absurd, grinning phantom finds itself in a shower scene, susceptible to the unease and exposure, carnage and pleasure, supported in that environment. With a sly humor, this work is a phenomenological reminder that bias is inherent to our analysis of images, precluding a unified system of possibility.
But history insists upon such a unified system, on linearity that reinforces “progress” and movement forward. The complexities of individuated narratives interfere, while raising a slew of new questions. Jiří Skála has gathered photographs of vintage heavy machinery from the Czech Republic, each of which were taken by the machine’s owner. These appliances were purchased by their original operators, an opportunity offered by Czech conglomerate Škoda Klatovy before they went bankrupt and closed all their factories. These images operate at the intersection of personal and industrial archives that don’t settle easily into dominant perspectives of history. Ranee Henderson’s paintings visualize a frustration with the heroism of history’s retelling, and the omission of tangents that are difficult to reconcile. Her paintings of bodies in abstracted space are punctuated by peanuts and lobsters, symbols that allude to low socio-economic status. These figures are nearly life-sized, intensified impressions, rummaging and reaching beyond the canvas. Henderson poses a challenge to the triumph associated with historical merit, recognizing inequitable circumstances and the people subjected to them. Silenced in the wider sweeps of history, A Field of Meaning provides a platform for the complex, often neglected, anecdotes some might wish to omit.