Monday, May 18, 2009

The Abstraction Game: Myra Mimlitsch-Gray

The problem with abstraction is that a subjective voyage into the unknown is precisely this: subjective. And, since the exceptional quality of my experience as the creator is something distinct from the experience of the spectator, the abstraction game becomes a hide-and-seek of subjectivities, a challenge which at any moment can be called a bluff, a mere ego trip. Thus, whenever the artist moves into abstraction, whenever we receive less (of the visible image of the visible), we find ourselves in a position of risk - the risk of losing track, of losing sight of anything that rings a bell.
It is a risk we have learned to enjoy. It is a risk justified by the way our historically-bound senses receive the world, and well-defended by an astonishing number of passionate theories.
Still, I look with envy at the art lovers who find abstraction as natural as air.
Most of the time, I find it easier to discover new worlds in a stone than in an abstract sculpture.
Yet there are artists who manage to create paths that lead from the world of re-cognition, of everyday objects and images and tastes, of the mimetic pleasures of re-production, to the very limits of abstract forms.
One such artist is Myra Mimlitsch-Gray.

Take a simple object:

The effect of melting does not seem to challenge the object as such. It asks for fruit as loudly as any classic salver does. Nonetheless, it moves us towards a world where the concrete is, well, not so concrete after all:
Here we have a candelabrum, which is hardly a candelabrum any more. It has melted like a candle, apparently contradicting its main function: to withstand melting. Welcome back to the magnificent world of semiotic undoing, and sensual games with the intellect.
Too entropic for you? Why don't you try something more positive, then? Sugar and cream, anyone?

The sugar bowl is the negative of its own shape, as is the creamer... or is it that none of them actually has the shape? What are they, after all, these shapes that are to be useful, that are to serve, as if their being objects were not good enough? What is left of the representation, of the concrete, once we put it to challenge in its very heart?

Let's move back to the first picture now. The title of the work is Trunk Sections, and it is made in cast iron. A tree made of iron. Or is it a mold of a tree? (What a strange idea: a mold of a tree!) Or just a part of their trunk? And why do they seem so... wooden? What, then is the matter with them? They are like ghosts, representing something we presume might have been here, but made of another stuff, another material, another essence, defying the way we see the objectness of the object.
We can, of course, go back to seeing them as just a few pieces of iron cast and assembled to create an abstract sculpture, like so many others.
The question is: with this delicious introduction, why would we refuse the voyage?

Myra Mimlitsch-Gray
has an exhibition on until June 27 at the Wexler Gallery in Philadelphia, and you can read an insightful text about her work by
by David Revere McFadden here.