15 February 2001 - 24 March 2001
Opening Reception 15 February 2001 8pm
Mining the surface (and more)
Suzanne Nacha told me that she sees mining as a metaphor for painting. Interesting that it isn’t the other way around.
In producing this series of minescapes, Nacha uses the language of painting to address issues of excavation and industrialized signs of human life based on the specificities of mine sites. Mining, the process or industry of extracting various materials from the earth, is an aggressive process, a penetrative force which leaves its mark on the surface mined.
These are not really minescapes; they’re landscapes which happen to be inhabited by the physical structures of mining, far in the distance. And while these are landscapes, they do not describe the land. Instead, they describe, in terms so apparently simple as to seem rudimentary, marks on the land made by the forces of industry.
In maximizing our field of vision – which minimizes the amount of visible detail – these representations of physical force become abstracted meditations on the utilitarian forms of industrial architecture, and the imprint on the landscape of a human presence. This presence is not politicized, it is aestheticized. There remains, as ever, a certain beauty in force.
From a nongeological point of view, an ontological one perhaps, mining is about a search for meaning, for substance, a delving into matter which is provided in order to glean something – or things – which are not. This mining that Nacha gives us is excavation without violence, without penetration, without sound. I imagine a mine site as physically dwarfing and aurally deafening. Surrounded by these paintings, which are small, precious objects for a subject so vast and forceful, I am acutely aware of the scale reversal and of the silence which surrounds me.
What seems most like physical mining to me about these paintings is the evident tension caused by and created in the dragging of paint across the support surfaces, of the flat but shapely uniformity of the grounds interrupted by the eruptions of architecture. The pull of paint seems to have taken such great effort, the pigment so thick it needs to be wielded rather than dipped into.
From the viewer’s elevated vantage the buildings are ghostly presences, elegant and graceful forms tentatively circling one another, reaching across distances to touch or withdraw from contact. They are oddly and gently human in their occupation of this otherwise empty space, using the most basic of communication skills ÜÜ touch, physical gesture ÜÜ to seek belonging. They become for me ever more human, ever more sympathetic, their surfaces ever more skinlike, stretching to accommodate the pressure of their contents and their intents.
For structures constructed for such aggressive purpose, Nacha has made these buildings singularly passive; they receive matter, are acted upon by human and other natural forces, yet themselves can do nothing but wait. Passive vessels awaiting enactment. Inertial.
The enactment that takes place under the painter’s hand is different than that which would occur under the mining geologist’s. Rather than seeing these structures as receptacles, Nacha sees them as fingerprints on the land, identifying traces that indicate the absence of presence. As such, the buildings themselves take on the role of the human in the landscape, stranded, tiny.
In depicting them, the artist explores her fascination with the abstraction of utilitarian architecture. In concentrating on these structures, she undertakes the same sort of typological project seen in the works of Bernd and Hilla Becher, who travel the world documenting in photography similar structures, also built for industry, also haunting in their elegiac beauty.
Nacha depicts signs of life in the wilderness, outcroppings of the human desire to explore and build. With her simplification of already simple forms, we are reminded that these desires are not limited to the spaces that are represented ÜÜ they exist not only in mine sites, but also on these canvases, in this gallery. As such, the inquiry is not limited to exploration of mining as a global activity, but is broadened to include all human activities in which meaning or elucidation is sought.
In describing mining as a metaphor for painting, Suzanne Nacha might mean that they are largely the same. For just as miners search below the surface for materials that they expect to find, occasionally foiled by another discovery, the painter’s goal, too, continues to shift through the process of making and searching. She too digs beneath the surface, hopeful, but not always sure what she will find there.
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