May 6 – June 17, 2012
In her first solo show, N. Dash presents a body of work comprising both wall pieces and photographs, wherein she expands upon her longstanding interest in deconstructing the traditional boundaries separating image from support in painting and sculpture. For Dash, this pursuit is ongoing, as evidenced by earlier pieces included in recent group shows at Tanya Bonakdar, Peter Blum, and Nicole Klagsbrun. In this previous work (some of which, for full disclosure, I own), Dash hand-dyed cloth with indigo and draped it over varied supporting structures; or she repeatedly handled paper while traveling to and from her studio, “sealing” the resulting worked objects by rubbing them with graphite powder or pigment, and hanging them directly on the wall with exposed nails; or she shaped cylindrical forms of rubbed paper finished with indigo dye, again wall-mounted; or she made unique photographic prints of banded light and shadow, created in the darkroom through the touch of her hands rather than the mechanics of a camera.
Moving her focus beyond the formal components of drawing, sculpture, painting, and photography, in her current show Dash tests the division between painting and sculpture, while additionally exploring the means by which bodily expression and information are embedded in material. She does so by bringing directly into focus otherwise-hidden elements—stretcher, canvas, linen, rabbit-skin glue—and presenting them as objects in real time, independent of any atemporal illusion that might be built upon them.
By thus eliminating artifice, Dash elevates materials and structures that might otherwise be overlooked. A number of the wall pieces, devoid of applied color, are constructed of linen or canvas mounted on stretchers: draped, folded, and otherwise fully revealed in a variety of forms that themselves can be read as forms of painting or sculpture. In many instances, Dash has mixed dirt from New Mexico with water to create an adobe ground, which she lays on the stretched linen base. Here, the ancient imprint of dirt itself becomes an integral part of a very present construction.
In “Groundings (7)” (2012), Dash has layered adobe on jute stretched on a wooden support. The adobe retains not only visible trowel marks, much as one might see on an adobe wall, but also traces of the artist’s own hand. Rather than cover the wood support in a uniform manner, Dash first laid down a smooth layer of adobe and then overlaid the structure with rougher, darker adobe bands along the upper and lower edges, creating a central horizontal line that is often present in her work. The final adobe-on-jute element is mounted on a rough-edged raw linen backdrop and stapled to the wall, creating a Rothkoesque composition of banded and blocked forms. In “Groundings (3)” (2012), Dash has sandwiched a multiplexed vertical mass of linen between two rectangles of jute stretched on a wood support and overlaid with adobe, thus creating—through structure alone—the compression/expansion and push/pull inherent in formally painted works, yet without the use of oil or brush. In using traditional adobe as a medium and in mounting the works in varied manners to the wall, Dash also links these pieces to the gallery’s own architecture, deconstructing yet another questionable boundary: that between visual art and the built environment.
The earthiness of the materials used in the wall pieces is also highly relevant to the photographs on view here, rhythmically interspersed among the other hanging works. The photographs are close-up images of small masses of factory-made white cotton. Dash keeps these textile fragments with her at all times during the day, manipulating them and ultimately wearing them down with her hands over an extended duration, until they reach an ultimate stage of fragility. At that final point, these quite tiny objects are frozen in time by the camera and greatly enlarged in print. The photos thus become surrogates for the fabric sculptures themselves. But most importantly, it is through the process of photographic enlargement that the extended and complex effects of time and touch upon the material are finally distilled to form the striking images on view.
Whether photographs, sculptures, or paintings, Dash’s work as a whole is best seen as a series of bodily extensions—as haptic work, if you will. The photographs thus no longer reserve the distance from touch that we often associate with that medium. And as forms of sculpture, the wall pieces are likewise no longer divorced from painting or their own supporting materials, nor even separate from the physical structure of the gallery. Instead, touched and moved by the artist’s hand, these works first reveal and deconstruct, and then rearrange and vivify, their own elements—sometimes hidden, sometimes ignored, but always essential.
30 Orchard St. // New York, NY