Analia Segal: Contra la paredby Jonathan Goodman
THE ALDRICH CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM
MAY 20 - SEPTEMBER 23, 2018
Analia Segal is a New York-based artist, but before she arrived in the States nearly twenty years ago, her life in Argentina was under the cloud of the Argentinian dictator, Jorge Rafael Videla, who took power when Segal was only seven years old. It was a time of extraordinary violence, and although the artist suffered no direct harm herself, she was marked by the general sense of disorder and genuine mayhem taking place. This deep sense of unease surfaces in, Analia Segal: contra la pared, which in Spanish means “against the wall” or “cornered.” The show is composed of abstract geometric patterns covering the entry doors. Inside there are three videos on three of the walls, as well as a relief sculpture of white chipboard volumes, meant to be seen as books, and a work consisting of strings of yarn descending toward a circular rug. These discrete pieces function as a totality, making the entire installation feel like a singular work of three-dimensional art.
Segal’s work picks up on the technical advances achieved in New York in environmental art and in the fierce emphasis on political awareness, and also the idea of a home—a safe personal environment—beyond the violence of the moment. Segal’s work does not begin and end with personal feeling alone. Rather than focus on things being done to people, the artist abstracts the experience of her youth, investing her videos with word play that create a soundtrack to abstract images from the Internet that reference wallpaper, drapes, doors, and other indoor objects.
Collectively titled Inland, the videos communicate disorder and distress through simple repetition of words from language tutorials in which the listener is enjoined to repeat the phrase that is spoken. The very act of doing so is an example of someone following a command—an interaction that could easily be read as the use of authority, as simple as the act of verbal repetition might be. The use of words amplifies the power and pathos of Segal’s installation, which leaves an aura of mistrust, even suspicion in the viewer’s mind.
Aleph II (2018) consists of a round rug whose circumference includes thick lozenge-shaped forms in red. Lines of black yarn rise up in columnar fashion to the ceiling. There is no overt political content, but the catalogue essay by artist Richard Klein (currently interim director of the gallery) intimates the black-and-red rug as violent, pushing into the space above it with the black lines of yarn. Like the injunctions we hear in all three videos, we also experience the violence in this very interesting work of art as implied—but inevitably hovering in near distance. Klein invokes the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana, an Argentinian native, as a precedent to Segal’s work in its elegant, implied distress, in which passionate invasiveness stands for what it is as a simple visual. Like the gallery walls, Aleph II makes use of red, black, and white abstract patterns, whose colors themselves seem menacing enough but which do not directly, or in realist form, convey violence.
Before becoming an artist, Segal studied industrial design, and one of the considerable strengths of her installation is its creative sense of placement—Aleph II is placed where it is to encourage her audience to move through and around the exhibition, supporting the view that the entire installation is a sculpture. Indeed, Segal is extremely aware of the audience’s movement across the room. Aleph II helps make the total environment cohere in a manner that affects us first as a visual statement and then, over time, as a political treatise despite its essential abstraction. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the personal hovers over the show like a low cloud—Segal invests her work with the emotion that comes from her difficult childhood. The feeling of oppression is primarily achieved by the addition of sound; the seemingly benign quality of the repeated commands turns dark over time.
Perhaps the most striking work is the wall sculpture Blind Volumes (2017 – 18). Consisting of white chipboard against an otherwise unadorned red wall, many of the individual pieces—which stick out roughly six inches from the wall and look rather like patterns meant to convey literary content—are deformed. They display extrusions or small but sharp changes. Classically modernist in its overall gestalt, Blind Volumes also repudiates the high, clean lines of modern sculpture by deforming many of the individual elements that the work is made up of. Segal is paying homage to a childhood past that has stayed with her, but her visual presentation is remarkable for its terse schematics. Her art lasts as remembered patterns informed by the memory of a dysfunctional, bloodily vindictive state.
This does not mean we must read everything as a symbol of a troubled younger life. The tension between art and social commentary in this environment is extreme, and it makes the work(s) memorable. Segal’s art poses questions more than it answers them, and this is how it should be; as a piece that indirectly reminds us of early life events that, in the artist’s case, are publicly—not privately—originated, contra la pared demonstrates that memory can seep from one milieu to another—even if we do not want this to happen.
JONATHAN GOODMAN is a teacher and author specializing in Asian art, about which he has been writing for more than twenty years.