Polyvalent Spaces


Polyvalent Spaces

Donna Cleary and Kathline Carr

August 25 – Sept 25, 2016

The title of this exhibition is taken from Michel de Certeau’s The Practice of Everyday Life, where he writes “It is polyvalent because the mixing together of so many micro-stories gives them functions that change according to the groups in which they circulate.”[1]

At first glance the pairing of Cleary’s reimagined fetish objects and fertility statuary with Carr’s richly textured drawings and paintings may appear to have little in common. However, the work of each artist suggests a narrative interpretation, and invites the viewer to create associations and micro-stories.

When first considering this exhibition, I thought there would be something to say about work that is made in a particular place -- North Adams, MA, and that by pairing an Artist who lives and works here, with an Artist who was an artist in residence at MASS MoCA but lives elsewhere, a connection or something distinctly “North Adams” might be evident.  I think this argument can still be made. But this is not an exhibition about North Adams as place or its influence. There is a subtlety beyond this initial assertion; North Adams as place is just one of the threads of this pairing.

As the curator of this exhibition here are some of the associations I have created for myself when viewing the works of each artist. I invite you to explore this exhibition using these associations as guideposts as you construct your own narratives and associations.

Consider Jane Rendell’s writings on A Place Between.

A Place between is spatial, it is a mapping of the topographies between here, there and elsewhere. A place between is temporal, it pay attention to time, to the ways in which we locate the then from the now, the now from the yet-to-come…A place between is social, it is an articulation of the place of dialogue, ongoing discussion, between one and another.[2]

North Adams is in many ways a place between – a once robust blue-collar factory town home to a world-class contemporary art museum. A place that exists in this between place, between prosperity and ruin, between natural and man-made.

Kathline Carr’s works draw inspiration from the historical record left in architecture. The layers of accumulated surface on an urban wall, and the rocky formations found in nature can both be seen in her abstracted forms. Her work is sometimes literally layered with this detritus, using painting rags and junk mail envelopes to inform the surface of her work. Creating a surface that exists between painting and drawing, and between flat surface and object. Hers is a subtle understanding of the layered history of a place.

Donna Cleary’s work brings a transformation of purpose to the objects she collects and assembles, subverting their original functions to create new associations.

With an interested in what marks our epoch, she collects domestic detritus as "artifacts" that once had purpose in a domestic environment. In the tradition of women's handiwork, she crochets fibers around these ordinary objects that teeter on the edge of pathos and humor.  

Consider ready-mades and combines and labor and creating new meanings from found objects.

With influences ranging from Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades to Robert Raushenberg’s combines to Marx’s concepts of fetishization, Cleary’s sculptures are rooted in the site of production.  Her objects, mostly sourced in North Adams, are embedded with the labor of domestic spaces.  Yarn attaches, engulfs or grafts these objects into fertility sculptures through overt and humorous gestures.

Consider the history of painting, in particular Abstract Expressionism

The influence of Raushenberg is apparent as well in the work of Kathline Carr, particularly when considering her work in relationship to his black painting series. Carr’s work is also reminiscent of other Abstract Expressionist painters like Carl Morris’ intersecting light series.  Psychologically Carr’s work evokes abandoned buildings and dying factory towns as well the poetic melancholy of Robert Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic series.

In visiting Kathline Carr’s studio I kept thinking of the abstract works of Philip Guston. I wasn’t quite sure why, but then I came across this writing from the Phillip’s Collection and it became clearer:

Guston was trying to heighten the solidity and performance of his paintings – to convey a state of rest and one of motion simultaneously in the space of the canvas…This duality becomes evident in other abstractions by the artist, who sought to present the extremes found in nature and within himself: oppositions of motion and rest, closed and open, solid and fragile, enduring and transitory.[3]

In viewing Carr’s work one can see this duality of extremes. Work that is at rest but in motion, closed and open, solid and fragile.

Consider Ann Hamilton’s description of Embodied Knowing –

The following is a paraphrased transcription of a recorded conversation between the maker Anne Hamilton and On Being host Krista Tippett – it’s worth a full listen.[4]

There’s something about the rhythm of the hands being busy and the mind falling open. It cultivates a kind of attention that is the rhythm of those two things together. They have very different satisfactions. You can see the material, making by hand. Textiles are the first house of the body.

How do we know things? We grow up in a world that ascribes a lot of value to those things that we can say or name. That there are all these hundreds of ways we know things through our skin which is the largest organ of our body. Text and textiles are woven experientially. Cloth as an animate surface and thinking about it as something that both covers and reveals.

This notion of threads of sewing and threads of ideas, lines of speech and the weaving that happens between words and substance.

How do we trust and listen to embodied knowledge. (As Artists) We give our experiences away because we don’t know how to trust. When you’re making something you don’t know what it is for a really long time, you have to cultivate the space around you for the thing you cannot name. How do you cultivate a space that allows you to dwell in the not knowing that is actually really smart and can be really articulate. The thread has to come out and it comes out at its own pace.

How do you make the condition for tactile experience, which isn’t literally always touching.

There’s a tactile quality to both Cleary and Carr’s works. There’s a literal incorporation of fabric and yarn, but beyond these materials there is something in their works that inspires a tactile or embodied experience of these works. They reference the difficult to name, yet clearly felt and experienced. There’s an embodied recognition of something ancient to each artists work.


Consider Intersectionality

 Because these Artists are not one thing, their work evokes a multiplicity of meanings and is inspired from many facets of their lives.

The dialectical relationship between art and inhabited space, between embodied and embedded knowledge, and the tension between the familiar and the strange are all prevalent in the work included in this exhibition. Polyvalent Spaces grounds this relational exploration into the place where it was created - North Adams, MA - but invites a multiplicity of associations as you weave together the threads of the exhibition. 


[1] De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life  p. 125

[2] Rendell, Jane A Place Between, Art Architecture and Critical Theory p. 221

[3] http://www.phillipscollection.org/research/american_art/artwork/Guston-Natives_Return.htm

[4] http://www.onbeing.org/program/ann-hamilton-making-and-the-spaces-we-share