Catalog essay, accompanying the exhibition Against Interpretation, Tilburg, The Netherlands, 2012.
Featured artists: Alexandra Leykauf, Wade Guyton, Cheryl Donegan, Jens Wolf, Koen Delaere, Remco Torenbosch, Tom Meacham, Sandra Kranich, Evi Vingerling, Bas van den Hurk, Rory Pilgrim, Harm van den Dorpel, Wendy White, Joelle Tuerlinckx. Published by Onomatapee and Whatspace, The Netherlands.
by Wendy White
About abstraction: it might just be my working-class mentality, but it feels like it’s such a good little student lately, always sitting in the front row, crossing the t’s and dotting all the i’s. Wasn’t the whole idea of abstraction to get to something essential? It feels so built.
Something less predictable happens when abstraction is out into the world. In galleries, on white walls with the right amount of space in between, it is capricious and a bit passive-aggressive. It wants to show you something, but just a little, and you have to work for it. That’s its mantra: “Work for it.” Outside, with the bricks and asphalt, it is fragment, and that to me is more what it is supposed to be. Something that adds up.
I don’t mean fragment in the worn down sense, like a ruin. The torn away wheat-pasted poster, revealing layers and indicating the passage of time is cliché. The tattered old thing and mortality and all of that is nothing without the juxtaposition of the new, ego-driven idea. New, new, new…a.k.a. alive!
I think the real power of abstraction is in its ability to be recognized, not its nebulousness. Partial meanings (which are always more real) are effective because they point to whole things that we also don’t understand. It’s that vagueness—it’s not really something but it’s also not nothing—that makes it work. Image androgyny.
Meaning itself is tougher to pin down and impossible to define because it doesn’t really breathe outside of a moment. That thing that happens in a split second, in the studio, in private, is the moment that meaning is transferred. When it happens it’s largely by accident, the result of letting go of cognitive decision-making and trusting a different part of the brain. We just can’t decide what stuff means and then make it so! Ludicrous!
Lastly, interpretation pretends to be a democratic, freewheeling notion, but on many levels it’s just a scholarly proving of things using the canon of art history as the gauge. Just be free and let stuff in.