MAY 2019

All Issues
MAY 2019 Issue
ArtSeen

N. Dash

<p>Installation view: <em>N. Dash</em>, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.</p>

Installation view: N. Dash, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.

Connecticut
THE ALDRICH CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM
March 3 – September 15, 2019

All of the pieces in N. Dash’s eponymous show at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum are untitled. By itself, this is unremarkable except if one keeps in mind that the act of naming is the first step in domesticating an object, a person, a homeland, or an idea. To leave something nameless is to leave its presence and meaning inconclusive and equivocal. How might an artwork become simultaneously invested with meaning while clothed in an empty signifier? The history of Modernism and colonialism (where “primitive” art carried neither name nor author) is ripe with examples, from artworks predating the very idea of a title (a surprisingly long stretch of time), to the deliberately concrete Minimalists, Cindy Sherman’s Untitled Film Stills (1977 – 80), and onwards into the present where N. Dash leaves these twelve abstract, methodically partitioned panels, as Untitled. Like other names and words which derive their specificity relative to what they are not, N. Dash’s paintings are defined by actions, remnants, and absences.

The panels are delimited by a relatively ascetic range of materials, textures, and monochromatic backdrops of graphite, white paint, and the earthy hue of adobe mud. Strings traverse, converge, and depart in patterns suggestive of architectural forms and perspective lines. Coated with a layer of adobe and chamfered at the borders, the panels’ pristine, flat surfaces are suffused with hairline cracks—vestiges of the desiccation process. Along the canvases’ edges, a deep brown trim is made of a heavy, coarse substrate of woven jute. In some instances, the components’ relationships to each other—variously inset, abutting, nestled, draped—reiterate and build upon one another to compose a singular entity.

<p>Installation view: <em>N. Dash</em>, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.</p>

Installation view: N. Dash, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.


One monolithic white-on-white panel includes a series of strings stretched taught to cut horizontally across the piece’s center. Embedded below a thick, opaque coat of acrylic and enamel paint, they coalesce into a cruciform shape, but upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent that the rough-edged lines demarcating its extremities were created by peeling them back one by one after they set. In other words, the artist’s intervention turns the string’s removal into an indexical sign. The method is a variant of the standard technique of masking, whereby a surface is partially obscured in order to protect it. Placed in equal proportion above and below, boundaries are born and become laden with significance, displacing the compositional relationships which modulate the work. Like the omnipresent craquelure scattered over their surfaces, these paintings and the ghosts of previous states can almost be thought of as phenomena as much as object.

Although the panels’ materiality has a sculptural effect, N. Dash considers herself to be a painter and describes the work as such. In fact, the work is both. The presence of Dash’s hand is most pronounced in the exhibition’s close-up, oversized photos of her “fabric sculptures,” tiny cotton scraps which she distresses between her fingertips until little remains but tattered fibrous skeins. Captured in impeccably executed silkscreens, the images’ swirling cadences of light and shadow undulate like whirlpools of gestural brushstrokes over neutral grays, pinks, and blues. Dash’s vocabularies of proportion and symmetry remain integral compositional devices, but the images' restless detail unsettles the show’s quiescence.

<p>Installation view: <em>N. Dash</em>, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.</p>

Installation view: N. Dash, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2019. Photo: Jason Wyche. Courtesy the artist and Casey Kaplan, New York.

To simply describe the exhibition as a procession of serene moments punctuated by disquiet would overlook the kinesthetic tension latent within and among the different works. At the far side of the room, a blue and white silkscreen is hung well above eye level. The next, a symmetrical arrangement of layered blue, black, and white painted linens coupled with polystyrene and adobe, towers over the viewer. Two silkscreens on either side mimic human scale. The succession implicates the viewer’s body with the surrounding architecture and ambient space in a delicate, unconscious choreography as if the negative space itself were a sculpture to be carved from motion and air. Likewise, opposite these works, a draping canvas partially obscures the top of two vertically-stacked panels. The portion that remains exposed—perhaps an extreme close-up photo of a fabric sculpture—is no less mysterious than the part concealed. The piece hangs off-center as if flirting with (or longing for) the adjacent stretch of empty wall.

Samuel Beckett, in his desire to express the void, said of his writing, “Every word is like an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” Although scrupulously structured, Dash’s paintings consistently stop just short of utterance, occupying instead, interstices of indeterminacy. They maintain a measured distance, stoic in their reserve, neither holding forth nor asking to be defined. Throughout, N. Dash plays the role of canny divinator, negotiating the known and not-yet-knowable. Withholding as a means of giving, N. Dash’s layered silence is an exercise in the poetics of inderterminacy.

Contributor

Steven Pestana

STEVEN PESTANA is a visual artist and writer living in Brooklyn. He holds an MFA in Digital Media from Rhode Island School of Design and a BA in Art History from New York University.

close

MAY 2019

All Issues