Nancy Baker Cahill

[Surd, 8]

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Surd, 8, 2016

Graphite on punctured paper, mixed media, 16" x 14"


My drawings, paper sculptures, and videos treat the idea of the human body as a complicated abstraction: corporeally real, yet unknowable, and mediated by external forces. Nothing appears whole; forms pull and push against and through each other. My imagery includes folds of flesh, explosions of hair, ropy tendons; internal landscapes both microcosmic and macrocosmically extraterrestrial. My intention is for viewers to experience empathic self-reflection as they consider their bodies and the bodies of others as engaged in a perpetual struggle – filled with vulnerability, strength, discomfort, and defiance.

My understanding of the body as an un-representable place has evolved over time. For my Fascinomas series, I employed the visual language of ultrasounds to produce a disruptive moment in our expectations of “truths.” I created images by “scanning” sculptural objects with spray paint, capturing their absence on paper. I further developed this idea in Virgil, a series of large-scale graphite drawings of disembodied viscera. In this work, struggle appears as tension between extremes: form and void, stasis and motion, erotic and a-sexual.

In Aftermath, her book on trauma and the body, Susan J. Brison introduces the concept of a mathematical “surd” as a metaphor for irreversible chaos and disruption in an otherwise linear life path. A surd is an irrational and irreducible number that, when placed in a predictable series of rational numbers, destroys all pre-existing coherence. It is also a synonym for something voiceless, a thing present but absent linguistic agency. My recent Surd drawings engage this concept through the juxtaposition of gridded holes punctuating skin-like surfaces. My aim is to explore the human “rational” desire for order and logic when faced with the nonsensical. I want to dissect notions of power moving over and through the body while suturing a formally generative wound that never heals.

Artworks by Nancy Baker Cahill

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