Thursday, 12 March 2009

Then and Now: new work by Lynne Avadenka

Lynne Avadenka, hot back from her success exhibiting at an invitational at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, has a show of recent work opening at the Lemberg Gallery in Michigan this weekend.

For those not within easy reach of Detroit, here are some images of the show, together with my short essay, commissioned for the exhibition.

Lynne Avadenka's work echoes with remembered voices. Anonymous texts and found printed matter reveal multiple histories. Her prints and bookworks confirm John Donne's belief that 'No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were...’ Then and Now was created in two continents. Avadenka begun the works during a recent artist’s residency in Germany, and later pursued the ideas in her Michigan studio. In her hands, long iridescent sheets of paper from Japanese mills act as the landing strips for relief impressions. She guides the viewer into a mirror-world of dreams, where familiar landscapes are reversed.

Architecture is a humane practise, concerned not just with space but also the people who inhabit it. Gaston Bachelard, in The Poetics of Space, describes how ‘the houses that were lost forever continue to live on in us.’ Avadenka patiently disciplines the arcane mechanics of the printing press to create whole cities. She envisions buildings in small letters of lead, in rough-grained plywood, laying one muted tone on another. The resulting structures are universal: they suggest the level roofs and domes of the Middle East, the summits of city skyscrapers or the concrete units of a Midwest mall. They could be homes or prisons, empty or full of mourners. Interlocking orbits are printed over the rigid geometry of buildings in carbon and carmine, the colours of ash and blood. Restless, yet arrested in time, these irrepressible spheres spin like transcendent Sufis.

Avadenka works like an enzyme, acting on existing materials to transform them. She cuts up antique maps and re-aligns tracks into impossible journeys. She dissects a ship’s log, and collages its blank charts into abstract narratives. A Hebrew grammar and a German dictionary are spliced together; in highlighting some words, others are erased. Temporal and linguistic systems of order are broken down and reformed into new beauty.

Avadenka has named one series of prints Formenlehre, which translates as morphology, the study of both living organisms and the words which represent them. For her, language and existence are inseparable. However, far from being signifiers, many of the words in this exhibition are erased or illegible. Irrespective of border and convention, letterforms run to the very edge of the paper. Cacophonies of overprinting result in solid areas of text. Like a black box in the heart of the machine, this concealed text seems to generate secret meanings within itself, awaiting interpreters. These letters represent both every language and none; the voices of all speakers and the silenced.

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