The four artists in this selection maintain a cautious relationship to agency, a shifting between the push of their materials, hands, and ideas, revealing the expression of their materials' physical and chemical properties with a keen eye and balletic precision. Alchemy, light, and the epochal implications of human agency play a strong role in each artist's practice, but above all it is their sensitivity to materials that unites them.
Much of our aesthetic attention today is directed toward an ostensibly flat, semiotic recycling wherein a post-medium condition threatens to expand toward a post-material condition (one might imagine here the parallel dangers of claims to post-race and post-gender societies). Recognizing the hazard of acquiescing in the dematerialization of specific physical phenomena—thus extending the reduction of life in financial equivalence to a reduction in material equivalence—one which masks the human and ecological affects of capitalism, we turn to a group of artistic practices whose respect for and sensitivity toward materials and their specific qualities pushes through this endpoint dematerialization to a renewed delight in and—dare I say, spiritual experience of—the world.
Introducing this selection is Mathilde du Sordet, whose sculptures and videos reflect her incredible sensitivity to materials, as she categorically refuses to puncture any object that enters her studio; all materials that find their way to the wall do so through gravity alone, leaning against or stacked atop one another with prudent care, with the artist acting like a mindful matchmaker pairing bedfellows. Her recent series The world is inside it. The world is outside it. takes as its material a handful of found lead letterpress letters strewn by Mathilde across a table, which are then photographed, photocopied, compiled as a book, and filmed in a manner as seemingly random as the Mallarméan tossing of the dice-like letters in her initial gesture.
Saul Melman begins a new artwork with a new material—testing its limits, its interactions with water, air, and light, its structural capacity, and the histories in which it is already entwined. A surgeon by trade, Saul has a distinct bedside manner with materials—one of tactful respect mixed with a playful desire to coerce them toward their outer limits, wherein he kneads the materials until they approach transubstantiation. For his recent Heliogram Series, Saul created a lens-less pinhole camera in a garage in the high desert of Joshua Tree, in front of which he composed ritualistic actions drawing on the formal strategies of Medieval painting, including gilded halos, vertical architectural lines, and a flat pre-perspective picture-plane. With his rematerialization of the photographic process as a performative, sculptural, alchemical pursuit, Saul summons a pre-Renaissance experience of the world, both aesthetically and scientifically.
Lindsay Packer creates light-based kinetic sculptural assemblages from household objects—toilet paper rolls, aluminum foil, stools, glitter, light bulbs—to form cinematic light-scapes that range from evocations of a swirling universe to the tenuous capture of a small red square of light. Lindsay teases apart the laws of physics with a layperson's tools, parsing white light into geometric blocks of color, turning a foil lantern into a pinhole projector, and splicing three colored light bulbs into three different colored light bulbs—as if performing a luminous magic cup game. An illusionist with her tricks already revealed, Lindsay maintains our enraptured attention with pinpoint accuracy, as with her Closed Eye Vision, wherein we are invited to peek through a paper spyglass at the perfect color red captured behind a yellow piece of paper.
William Lamson's performative gestures, sculptures, and installations focus further attention on light, this time in relation to landscape, often with the awakening of a sense of deep geological and primordial time. In his Mojave Desert project A Line Describing the Sun, William built a bare-bones wheeled apparatus to house a Fresnel lens, and with this lens followed the line of the sun as it curved across the sky, etching a scorched arc across the desert floor. As the 1600°C concentration of sunlight hit the cracked dried mud beneath the lens, it sputtered with sparks and bubbling black liquid that call to mind the ongoing formation of the earth in its turbulent relationship with the sun, all converged in the material transformation from mud to glass of a line only centimeters across.
Melanie Kress is a curator and writer based in New York. She is one third of the writing collective The Rare Element and the Curatorial Assistant at High Line Art, the public art program presented on and around the High Line. From 2010Ã¢ÂÂ2012, she was the Director and Chief Curator of the New York-based project space Concrete Utopia, and in 2009 was the recipient of a Curatorial Fellowship at Slought Foundation. She holds a BA in Art History and Visual Arts from Barnard College, Columbia University and an MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths, University of London.