Airlok or Gazing into the Void Julia Wachtel & Wendy White
Feb 6 - March 13, 2021 Von Ammon Co., Washington DC
White begins with simple visual icons that can represent emotions or simply the weather, among them hearts, rainbows, clouds and rain (or tear) drops. She fabricates them as huge 3-D (but still essentially flat) shapes, made of steel or aluminum or outlined in space by white LEDs shaped like neon tubes. Three sets of these mostly black emblems are grouped in mobiles that hang off-kilter and close to the floor, so their presence is intrusive. White also suspends a lone heart, whose chunky edges reveal its pixel-built origins, in front of White’s wall painting of a damaged wall. This collaboration is the show’s title piece. —Mark Jenkins, The Washington Post
Airlok or Gazing into the Void is a two-person show by New York based artists Julia Wachtel and Wendy White. Each artist has assigned a title to her contribution to the exhibition: Airlok, by Wendy White, consists of three large-scale suspended mobiles made of dibond, aluminum and LED light; Gazing Into the Void, by Julia Wachtel, consists of five new paintings on canvas. The artists largely avoid the use of existing gallery wallspace to install work, and instead construct an ersatz labyrinth of drywall and wooden studs spanning various structural columns. While the two projects assert their distinction through their respective titles, the installation allows for each artist’s work to frequently overlap and communicate with the other as the viewer navigates the space.
Wachtel’s first-ever single-motif series depicts one repeated, serialized subject: a white man with his head in a hole. Drawing from various techniques of image appropriation, Wachtel either directly lifts the likeness of these men from existing photographs or as hand-painted depictions of drawn caricatures. This exceptionally particular image—of the white man hiding his face, either out of denial, shame, fear, or self-justification—attracts new sociopolitical associations daily, and at an overwhelming rate. Wachtel’s painterly project has sought to deconstruct the semiotics of media (both traditional and digital) and to reconstruct it within the language of painting. This has typically involved the juxtaposition of unrelated images to create synthetic effects of dark humor and critique. In this series, Wachtel concerns herself with only one recurring image, as a synthesis of opposites—the pathetic, pratfall figure is humorous in its clumsy, struthious oblivion; the implications that subtend this awkward stance are those of unspeakable existential horror.
Wendy White’s three new, monumentally scaled mobiles involve the index of visual archetypes that the artist has developed throughout the course of her career: examples include a vector image of a black rainbow, a heart shaped from chunky pixels, a rain or tear droplet, a peace sign. While vaguely familiar, these signs lack a clear referent, and hover in a non-logocentric space, wherein the particular anxieties of childhood, adolescence and adulthood intersect depending on the viewer’s perspective. Like Wachtel, White is concerned with the reindexing of cultural semiotics and their subsequent reconstruction as simultaneously absurd, melancholy and fearsome art objects. As infantilization of the American consumer becomes an overt marketing strategy and as screens supplant real objects as the means to soothe a child, White’s sculptures straddle an in-between space: an abandoned realm of things on one side, and an uncertain future of virtual image-objects on the other.