The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2010

All Issues
MAY 2010 Issue


On View
The Boiler
April 2 – May 7, 2010
New York

Dawn Clements burrows into her drawings with an alarming relentlessness. The indelibility of her ink strokes, scraping out every detail she can catch, mirrors the fatalism of her conceptual path: once she starts, there is no turning back.

As her images unfurl toward the paper’s edge, Clements expands accordingly, pasting extra sheets every which way to accommodate the drawing’s encompassment of her visual field. Sloughing off the tyranny of the framed-in, glassed-over rectangle, her glued-together sheets, rumpled like oddly cut, unkempt bed linens, traverse the macrocosmic and the microcosmic, roaming across walls and wrapping around corners like demented, half-finished murals, while scribbled marginalia, commenting on the drawing-in-progress, encircle the images with the intimacy of notes from an abandoned diary.

Dawn Clements,
Dawn Clements, "Boiler" (2010). Sumi ink on paper. 217" x 460". Courtesy the artist and Pierogi.

Clements bases her drawings either on direct observation or on footage from bygone Hollywood films of the Douglas Sirk persuasion. My personal taste runs to the former; the observed drawings, wrestling with the ambiguities of three-dimensional space, feel more bold and vibrant, while the mediated imagery, with its dated modernity and inherent campiness, seems suspended at an unapproachable emotional remove.

The artist’s installation at The Boiler, aptly titled “Boiler,” is observational drawing in spades. Nearly 40 feet long, the work occupies a corner of the gallery’s raw, soaring space, with its highest edge reaching two feet above the 16-foot-tall, unfinished plywood cladding. It takes only a few moments, and several quick turns of the head, to realize that the mechanical object rendered in sumi ink in front of you is the massive antique boiler looming right behind you. The drawing’s larger section, on the left-hand wall, is light, linear, and airy, with a grand, empty expanse of paper beneath an ascending network of delicately rendered pipes; the portion on the right, which is half as high, is dense, blocky, and very, very black. The larger section depicts the side of the boiler facing the drawing, and the other represents its adjacent right flank. 

This makes for a dizzying sense of dislocation between the object and its representation—all through a simple inversion of space. The drawing is folded outward, like the hide of a zebra jammed into a nook, so that each end would have to be turned back 90 degrees to duplicate the adjacency of the actual boiler. This may seem like an elementary transformation, but I found the act of glancing back and forth in an effort to fix the image in its real-space context to be as anxiety-provoking as it was mind-bending. I experienced the kind of disorientation you might feel on an unmarked, unlit, rain-soaked highway.  You think you know where you are, but you can’t be sure: what should be there isn’t, and then it is, only to dissipate again.

Clements has conjured a cerebral spectacle for a materialist age.  There are no buzzers, mirrors, LEDs, or video screens—only ink on paper.  It is imposing and disquieting; it floats and plummets; it beckons you closer and pushes you away.  A work of monumental fragility, it presents itself in the plainest of terms: black-and-white, ragged, abrasive, not pretty, real.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2010

All Issues