Elana Herzog and Dianna Frid

18 February 1999 - 27 March 1999
Opening Reception 18 February 1999 8pm

Main Gallery

The Intricate Potential of the Known

There are several things the works of Elana Herzog and Dianna Frid have in common. They both use fabric as their main material. They both create evocative montages, objects or sculptures that can be of unwieldy beauty and irritating appearance. They both subvert the meaning and purpose of already existing things – Frid by reconfiguring generic imagery, Herzog by transforming domestic accessories into uncanny entities. But above all what they share is an interest in extending the standard interpretation of objects and images we are surrounded by. And within that, they question the systems of order and belief we construct for ourselves, including hierarchies of taste and beauty.

Elana Herzog’s mutations, even mutilations, of functional and decorative items from the house are as whimsical as they are disturbing. At times her arrangements look like props for science-fiction or a thriller, suggesting some ill-fated development in the supposedly safe and orderly environment of the home. Bedspreads, blankets, shower curtains, carpets and drapery seem to have taken off on their own, morphing into unorthodox shapes, crawling up the wall, attaching themselves to the ceiling like parasites or seizing entire rooms as they become textile organisms reminiscent of a fungus disease.

These man-made materials, as if they escaped our power over the world of things, can seem strangely animated and even give the impression they are gazing at us. From a metal bar, a sinister-looking ruffled bit of fabric grows right into the wall, only to surface again (with the same faultless rose-patterns) from the cracks just around the corner. A twisted, hanging shower curtain appears to be in limbo, doubtful whether to fall or to rise. Even though Herzog lends a certain active role to her materials and lets them flow, bend and ripple their own way, her works are carefully composed and staged, and as sculptures they are intensely formal. Some pieces, while being quite expressive and evocative, also function as an abstract drawing in the space – such as a series of works where beaded strings gush onto the floor, ending in trickles or small puddles.

In a recent large-scale installation, called The Carpet Paradigm, at Wesleyan University, Herzog flooded the gallery with an avalanche of discarded rugs and industrial carpeting from different eras. This lavish carpet formation revealed – like geological layering – the quickly replaceable fashions in home decoration, reminding of how many different styles we might go through in a lifetime. In almost all of Herzog’s work, one can find allusions to landscape and growth, but she doesn’t try to imitate or represent nature. The components clearly remain in their own domain – as interior, utilitarian and utterly artificial stuff. Interestingly, Herzog rarely, if ever, mixes different domestic materials in individual works. Instead, she focuses on one category or one small world at a time – the world of the shower curtain, the world of the bedspread, the world of the carpet and so forth. For her, within each ordinary object there is a potential of transformation beyond definitions of beautiful and ugly, perfect and imperfect, or high and low.

Dianna Frid uses fabric less for its domestic connotations than for its physical characteristics, its flexibility, transparence, the possibility to cut and paste. Her three-dimensional fabric montages consist of numerous components, including imagery or words that originally belonged to a classified system. Culled from garden and museum plans, dictionaries and how-to-do books, these fragments are individually and often repeatedly applied onto pieces of fabric by means of laser-heat transfer and linked to one another by embroidery technique. Each resulting arrangement still suggests some kind of system or a narrative, but there are no directions given. They are labyrinths, all-over meshes or camouflage-like structures that can visually be entered from many different points. Equally, some of Frid’s one-of-a-kind artist’s books can be leafed through from either beginning or end, or even be looked at upside down.

By appropriating found images and playfully liberating them from their original meaning, Frid creates her own open-ended vocabulary – one could say a vocabulary ridded of adjectives and conjunctions, but only consisting of verbs or nouns. In several works, small pictures taken from first aid manuals are connected by embroidery floss and seem to cause a sort of infinite chain reaction, from one word/image grows another, resulting in a visual conundrum. The otherwise worrisome images themselves (choking victims, pairs of figures engaged in mouth to mouth resuscitation) become quite ambiguous: they could constitute a diagram of intense emotions, a tree of life, a puzzle, an ornamental pattern such as one finds on cloth …

With Frid’s works based on cultivated structures like gardens or museums, one does not only face labyrinthine compositions made out of countless adopted fragments, but one seems to be looking at them from a distorted aerial perspective. Or is it a mirage, as with Inversion, where a beautifully embroidered maze hovers above an abstract landscape? What used to be a system meant to outline taste or knowledge is here transformed into a phantasmal and indecipherable apparition. In contrast to the elusiveness of the images, Frid’s fabric montages are physically dense and often multi-layered, which emphasizes a palpable sense of accumulation and also introduces an element of time.

Frid’s and Herzog’s compositions veer between representation and abstraction, stasis and metamorphosis, the known and the unknown. As beholders, we should feel free to reinvent our own vocabulary to describe what we see (or, for that matter, what’s seeing us). In a time when everything seems to already have a name, a place, a purpose, an explanation, Herzog and Frid strive for connections that are not all explicable, logical or practical, but elastic, imaginative, enigmatic, freewheeling and lyrical.

– Sabine Russ