Saturday, March 14, 2015

Biennial Notes: Thread

Katrina Coombs, Absence
The 2014 Jamaica Biennial is now coming to a close on Sunday March 15th with artists talks planned to talk about new practices and directions.  At major exhibitions there is always a highlight on the biggest most glamorous, glaring or loud practices. High politics, high shine, high rhetoric, high tech is trendy. Within art scenes, markets and circles this is all of course to serves its purpose to ensure that the event is remembered and thus able to enjoy continuity and growth in the eyes of the organizers. Sometimes however some work which is more reflective and less locally explosive and assertive can get overlooked. I wanted to just put together a few thoughts to call attention to the work of three artists from this other side where I can see connections. The work that struck me includes the exhibits by Katrina Coombs, Judith Salmon and Miriam Smith.


Katrina Coombs
Coombs’ work strikes me as kind of woven hood without the remaining parts of the shirt for me to qualify it as a ‘hooded’ item of clothing. I suppose I am seeking to make the connection with her work because of the relevance of the hoodie or hooded figures in visual culture and international affairs. In the UK, the minority working class teens who don the repurposed athletic wear are literally called just ‘hoodies’ as a way of referring to the imminent social threat they pose. We are also now quite familiar with the story from the U.S. of the black teenager who was seen as a threat because of the hood which he wore. As we are reminded by countless films the hood also spelled danger for blacks in the southern states of the U.S. during much of the last century’s history. The one which comes most to mind is ‘O Brother Where Art Thou?’. Nevertheless Coombs has only suggested this hooded sweatshirt and gown which is so prominent and perhaps this is the actual intrigue of the work. There are actually two hoods in the work that appear to be and inner hood and an outer hood. She reflects on this when we talk to her as she speaks about ‘The Other’ or the other and her interest in perceptions of threat and isolation. The woven hood in her work in the Biennial also becomes a woven womb in other recent work seen in The Edna Manley College’s recent staff show and thus extends the links we make to the form.


Miriam Hinds
Justice Denied...1600 and Still Counting (detail), Source:NGJ Catalogue
             

Miriam Smiths’ work involves canvases mounted stained, scraped or printed monochrome with patches and groupings of a thick off-white thread or cord. White thread is sewn down by red thread; cocoons and tufts of white thread dangle by a single red thread and  white thread becomes scars on canvas which are sewn up or sewn down by the red thread. The wounds, pods, eggs and other symbols feel like abstract tales of birth, transformation, healing and pain. When asked about the use of red in the work she doesn’t point to any one meaning but talks about using it for all its potential symbolism. What does red mean? fertility, love, anger, good fortune and any other more personal significance. Coombs also talks about red as a powerful colour filled with diverse information attached. There is also a look about the work which reminds of smaller revised versions of Robert Motherwell’s canvases with ovoid shapes and horizons.


Judith Salmon, Palimsests for life
Judith Salmon continues this play between thread and its use to join and make connections. She says that thread can be used to repair things, to put things together or rather hold things together. As we travel from one artists’ work to the other the thread gets looser and looser and thinner and thinner. Coombs’ proto-hood is tightly woven and neat in its appearance while Smiths’ thread is ravelled, hanging and winding around forms and suppressed by other things. Salmon’s thread however is more like remains or cast-off. It is one of the bits and pieces from personal items or things we encounter in life that are suspended or float in the hardened wax. Her work is somehow less referential or conceptual than Coombs’ work and feels less vigorous or dictated than Smith’s work. These shallow wax rectangles are more like reflective traces of life. They present some kind of evidence that is very personal but relatable. We all have these bits floating around.



Judith Salmon, Palimsests for life (detail)
Aesthetically and materially they show linkages in their work but I think what interests me is how I am understanding something about how different each artist’s use of the materials is. This is expected as each artist has a very different set of generational and educational experiences. There are on the other hand so many similarities however as all have connections as staff or as alumni of Edna Manley College and both Coombs and Smith have involvement in the Textiles Department there. I could make the comparison that all three are women but it is arguably the thing which ties them all together or just a background fact. They are artists who show work which traces concerns with feminist thought, body politics, conceptual Art and the list goes on. I don’t know what specifically accounts for similarities in aesthetics and concerns in artistic practice. Certain places will definitely produce certain head spaces. Places as small as Jamaica are bound to do that as the pool of interests and ideas bounces from one artist to the other in constant dialogue and metamorphosis.  It makes me wish that all three artists could work together on a project or show to unearth further the potential energy of their ideas.

Katrina Coombs will form part of the artist talk panels at the closing event at The National Gallery of Jamaica at 1:30pm on Sunday March 15th, 2015. 

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