Archive | 2014 Exhibitions

Candace Hicks – Coincidence

Perhaps the most recognizable and definitive of school supplies is the composition book. This ubiquitous, bound notebook with typically wide ruled pages was an easy way to take notes or jot down information in classes—at least, for those of us used to pen and paper more than computers and typing. Candace Hicks deploys this schoolbook as a visual language in Coincidence. Just a bit thicker, perhaps a bit larger than the one we are used to, this composition-style work instantly assures the viewer that what they are about to encounter is going to be a handwritten, unique experience.

Upon initial examination, the outer cover of the book is similar to the most traditional of composition books, black with white cracks. These bits of white mimic the tunnels of ant farms (another school staple). Small ants crawl around, curiously searching for something; these creatures march onwards inside, as the audience soon sees. Once opened, the inner pages of Coincidence are a simple but bold red. Nestled on the left cover are red tinted glasses, like the disposable 3D kind, though they do not recreate that three-dimensional effect per se. The lenses are solely, emphatically red; once put on, everything is strongly colored to that shade. These glasses are a portal to a secret message, which we’ll get to shortly.

Taking the glasses off again, the viewer turns the page to the beginning of the book. Here, Hicks has used what looks to be her own handwriting in black ink (replicated in printing) to discuss coincidences. Looking closely, the blue lines of the pages, are actually made of small ants moving in formation. So is the red margin line, both easy to miss without alert attentiveness. Continuing this scholastic theme, “corrections” are made to the text via red ink, the go-to correction pen, pluralizing some words and making other minor adjustments. This simple color scheme of black, red, and the faded blue emphasize and focus the audience’s attention on the text, or story, within the pages.

Hicks reviews coincidences, or rather, a series of flukes that have clearly affected her in some way. Written almost in a stream of consciousness listing style, she starts by mentioning that these chance accidents tend to come in pairs—and then she’s off. We read about the anatomist murders in 1828 Edinburgh and how the two books she read depict the murderers in varying ways (one sympathetic, the other cruel), then to Napoleon’s wallpaper, its arsenic content, and the incorrect link to his demise. This portion of the book flows in this manner, a series of events that link together, hopping around history, literature, mythology, the everyday mundane, movies, and much more.

In some way, it feels as though Hicks, by describing this familiar yet intangible phenomenon, is trying to be open or welcoming to the universe in order to experience these accidents. These incessant links are listed breathlessly but matter-of-factly as she recounts each paired set. At one point, she mentions apophenia, which is “the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data.” She reads about this in a book and then immediately hears about it on Radiolab, a radio broadcast on science in everyday life. This cheeky association shows Hicks’ humor and self-awareness as she carries on with her task, relentlessly enumerating. As if to bolster her examination of coincidences, she adds footnotes to some pages, another academic reference. Finally, as if spent, the book ends with a last correlation and no explanation or summation of what has come before.

But what about the red glasses? This is where the viewer can giddily feel as if they are reading hidden code in invisible ink—because in a way, they are. In between the pages on coincidences are foldout pages; when the viewer pulls out the page, they see a series of ants creeping in haphazard formation. With the glasses on however, the true purpose is revealed. Each foldout tells part of a story, which goes thusly: famed etymologist E. O. Wilson discovers that ants use chemicals to communicate. He figures out how to chemically respond, directing them to “follow me,” then painstakingly collected these chemicals from the ants. Using these pheromones, Wilson writes his name, and the ants line up to create the font, which the final foldout presents. This linkage between hidden messages, ants, connection, and more all underline the purpose of Hicks’ work: coincidences and making sense of fragmentation. Swirling, eager, and somewhat surreal, Coincidence is a rousing exploration of a variety of media and life in general.

Order a copy here.

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Charlene Matthews – Through the Window

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Today I’m writing about one of Charlene Matthews books.

First here’s a bit about Charlene:
Charlene Matthews is a top-notch binderess working in Los Angeles. She is exceptionally skilled in traditional book craft; well versed in problem solving and working with the sometimes exotic materials her clientele demands. Happily for lovers of artists’ books, Charlene gives her imagination free reign when working on her own projects, creating books that are solidly built and full of a lighthearted whimsy. She summarizes these projects in this way:

I have been a voracious reader from early on . . . All this reading has put a lot of stories in my head, and I’ve digested them into pictures and maps. Subconsciously my book art creates some of those maps. I am drawn to words, a story and smell. The words fragment into graphics and photos, the story into maps, the smell into the materials I use.

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Her mixing up of materials is well-executed in Through the Window, a 2010 artists’ book. The book is housed in a lavender clam shell box that has a roughly cut, off center rectangular swatch of floral fabric affixed to the top cover. This swatch does not, however, offer an accurate clue as to what the book inside looks like or conveys. The swatch’s splash of color offers the only deviation from the otherwise neutral, muted tones used throughout the book.

The book’s exterior cover is elegant beyond the expectations set by the general demeanor of its box. Covers of natural (undyed) sheep vellum over boards with foil stamped title are lined with watered silk. The pages are bound using a six needle coptic sewn onto vellum straps laced onto the cover boards. The binding is exposed and Charlene has created a pattern over each strap by cross-linking the threads.


Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

The pages are created from nylon window mesh. This flexible, tactilely inviting  material, with its open weave and translucency, provides an appropriate stage for the unfolding of Charlene’s pictorial narrative. The narrative begins without preamble (i.e. there are no end pages nor a title page), with a collage of cut out fabric appliquéd on to nylon window screen mesh; the image of a laughing, harlequin styled face – a hole cut out in the wide open mouth’s interior. This page is followed by fifteen more; most have sewn collages of cotton and linen fabrics in muted beige and off-white tones, stitched into place with linen thread. Two of the pages are imaged entirely with thread; the white stitches creating labyrinthine marks that read as maps or aerial views.

The free floating arrangement of the fabric cut outs leave most of the screen empty, allowing glimpses of the next page (or two, or three) before the page is turned. Many pages have entire sections cut out of the collaged shapes’ interiors, allowing unimpeded view to the following page.

Another feature of this book is that the collages appear facing first one direction then, when the page is turned, face the opposite. Matthews has not just pieced her images in place on top of each screen, she has also woven parts of the fabric appliqués through to the next page. This adds a variety to the tones and textures to the nearly monochromatic palette. It takes me a minute to realize that one reason a left facing profile reads so differently than the right facing profile on the reverse of the same page is due to the screen functioning both as substrate and as collaged element.

The individual pages are edged with cotton string, oversewn with linen thread. Most of the pages’ imagery feature aspects of the human body, depicted in simplified forms – floating heads facing front and in profile, hands spread open with  fingers extended, disembodied features such as eyes, and what could be a detached foot (or nose?) floating through the pages’ spaces. Or maybe these are creatures other than human?  The pictorial elements are comfortably familiar, but not merely derivative. It is as though Matthews has invented her own set of symbols rather than adopting those already in our cultural lexicon.

Charlene Matthews - Through the Window

Charlene has, with this series of images, floating in space, yet fixed in place, presented me with a pictorial narrative; the materials open weave a perfect parallel to the openness of the narrative. The images serve as a starting point for me to devise my own story rather than inviting me to read a narrative of another’s devising.

At the outset I recognize and accept an invitation to join Charlene on a wild ride of imagination. At the end of my first romp through these pages, I recognize that future romps through these same pages will give me a chance to invent an entirely different narrative. I vacillate between being slightly envious and slightly alarmed at what Charlene sees through her own window but end this first reading pleased to have been invited along for the ride.

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