Tara Bullington, "Parallel"
Laura Bell, "Efflorescence"
Through Dec. 18 at Ruby Green Contemporary Art Center
Rhizome is a term from botany referring to root systems that travel underground and push out new shoots to propagate the plant. The organization is deeply nonhierarchical, unlike plants with a main root that branches out in ever smaller units. This botanical structure has become a metaphor for human organizations like the Internet and anarchist collectives, used by writers like Félix Guatteri and Gilles Deleuze to describe the organization of everything: ideas, society, history, meaning. In their words, "a rhizome has no beginning or end, it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo." As a growth mechanism, it is internally sufficient and self-governing. That last quality gives the idea potentially great power.
Tara Bullington, who lives in Russellville, Ala., uses this organization principle in several pieces currently showing at Ruby Green. She works with simple, similar forms and repetitive construction techniques to achieve variety through combinations and through the intrinsic variability of materials.
"Spectator" is a sheet made by connecting the front pieces of eyeglass frames and hanging them in rows. The work consists of one thing, but it comes in endless variations of color and one basic shape. This should register with anyone who has shopped for glasses at LensCrafters and confronted the rows of samples that differ in maddeningly small ways. Light and shadow play a role in this work as well. Most of the frames are plastic, therefore to some degree translucent, and they all cast shadows onto the wall that jumble the visual effects further.
Bullington connects the frames with short lengths of dark-colored wire, and she uses this wire as the primary material in several other works. "Lump" bends and connects pieces of wire to weave a web that crawls along the wall; the wire pieces hold small ball-bearing rings of various sizes. The rings, which make up nodes connected by filaments of wire, are dual-natured, with hollow centers but containing hard, solid spheres. The piece depicts a network and node system almost literally. As technical as that may sound, "Lump" seems to have evolved intuitively rather than resulting from a design plotted in advance: it takes a shape that's clear but not reducible to simple formula or geometric description.
Several of the pieces come off the wall, including "Stereotype," a wire construction with two tresslike sections that flow across the floor. In "Bed/Noexit," a wire framework spaced into squares like a quilt lies jumbled on a piece of cloth, with one section lifted up and stretched out to reveal the square-panel pattern. Other pieces made from magnifying glasses, paper and horse hair, and wire hang from the ceiling or stand on the floor. The work overruns the gallery like vegetation spreading unchecked.
The central piece in Bullington's show is "Incognita," which dominates the room with shapes made from the same wire elements and four large suspended polypropylene panels. Some of the wire has been assembled into wheels or buttons, with the edges transitioning into strands that connect the wheel-nodes to each other. With their connectedness and their simultaneous organization and disorganization, the wire forms mimic rhizomes in nature. Pieces of glass nestle in the wire, much of which has been coated with silicone, giving it additional texture and dimension.
Pairs of wire clusters dangle behind the four translucent panels, which hang at odd angles to each other. You can walk around the work, so there is no clearly indicated front or back, no privileged perspective. If you look at a panel straight-on, the wires behind it appear as shadows, clearest where they touch or come very close to the plastic surface; the complicated mass of wire gets simplified to the few strands most visible. From some viewing positions, you see some of the wire forms directly and others as silhouettes. The gallery and window lights also cast shadows on the wall and floor from all of these elements, and at certain angles the light and shadow take precedence.
The visual character of the work shifts with the perspective you choose, sometimes emphasizing vague shapes and lines, other times showing off glistening nests of glass fragments and silicone glop, and other times serving as a series of baffles for pure light. With the interference and interaction of multiple planes of view and the more ethereal elements of light and shadow, the piece gives a three-dimensional picture of phenomena existing in four dimensions or more, just beyond comprehension in simple visual terms. While one graphically plots three dimensions with three axes or two planes intersecting, this piece sets multiple planes in different directions, gathers lines that do anything but define clear vectors, and co-opts light and shadow that depart altogether from a world marked out in hard lines.
In addition to these sculptural pieces, Bullington has a series of more two-dimensional framed works, part painting and part assemblage. She builds up these pieces by attaching strips of canvas on top of canvas or panel, most of it painted shades of white with colored undercoats in places. She also affixes bunches of buttons on the surface (more repetition and variability) and bits of lingerie or lace, and she draws puppets or other forms in a light hand. On "Liebenhund," a hand reaches up toward a patch of cloth embroidered with this word, which translates more or less as "Loved-Dog," a reference to artist's recently departed Great Dane named Henryas is the recurring "H" in a circle that appears in several of the works. Forms like this symbol or the buttons, even the canvas itself, accrete on the surface, following a hidden logic. Decoding the "H" suggests that basic emotions drive the forms throughout. This otherwise mysterious symbol refers to something as common as the death of a beloved dog, a singular event in one life that gets repeated many times over every day. It leads you to guess that other elements have personal associations for the artist we can only intuit in general terms.
Botanic principles crop up again in the work of Atlanta artist Laura Bell showing in the front room of the gallery. She uses pattern repetition to create abstractions and botanic fantasies that float in an idealized, dark, liquid space. The paintings come in series"Germination" has bloom and root forms, "Efflorescence" somewhat more abstract patterns. Bell uses a very fine cartoonist's line, and the complexity of the patterns achieves a psychedelic graphic effect. The work goes well with Bullington's, even if it doesn't have quite the presence of the three-dimensional pieces.
Bullington and Bell work out fantasies of a nonhierarchical, multidimensional space that does not depend on the subservience of the many to the one. An encounter with these fantasy environments makes for a vacation from the stratification of all kindssocial, intellectual, political, economicthat fills our lives, shapes our consciousness, and which we learn to conform to and accept. Visions of rhizomes dancing in our heads may train the mind to live less constrained by hierarchy, with greater capacity to envision freedom. n
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