Subject Index

Aug 23 – Oct 11, 2008 // Opening Aug 23 // 2 - 4 p.m.

Curated by Gabrielle Giattino
for the Malmö Konstmuseum, Malmö, Sweden
in conjunction with Residency Far Away So Close

An abbreviated version of the show will be presented at DISPATCH this fall


image: Daniel Lefcourt, Ersatz Coherence, 2007, Acrylic on Board
182.9 cm x 243.8 x 30.5 cm (in 8 parts), Courtesy of Sutton Lane

Subject Index brings together seven artists who leverage indirect strategies against the construction of meaning in semiotic and narrative systems of language. The desire to communicate is thwarted as these works question and evade simple reading. The artists use organizational systems such as grammar and documentation to point indirectly to their subjects. By subverting clear interpretations, they suggest a critique of our culture’s emphasis on simple, un-nuanced communication. The frustration of meaning binds these artists together.

Daniel Lefcourt’s arrangement of blocks of black lines mimics the graphic convention of page layout design, and stands in as the introductory text for the exhibition. This ambiguous decoy opens Subject Index with a clear disavowal of the standard uses and meaning of language. Throughout the exhibition, Lefcourt’s installations punctuate the exhibition, underlining the possibility of depicting language without using language. The visible information acts as an evasive declaration, or non-statement, which in itself is an indictment of language and our reliance on it.

The title of the exhibition is borrowed from a series of photographs taken by Erica Baum in the Frick Museum's Art Reference Library. In this library, artworks are indexed on cards, and categorized by the subjects they depict. A Botticelli Venus is catalogued as showing nude figures, shells, and triumphs. Baum photographs the individual cards of the index, and by using – or in fact misusing – this system of organization, she creates associations and connotations unrelated to the originally described works.

With Erica Baum’s photographs, language is laid bare, but despite appearances, these photographs of words form incomplete pictures of their subjects. The hidden subject is always hinted at with captivating combinations of words, which become concrete poems and playful allegories for hidden referents. Exercising precise control over her images, Nancy de Holl manipulates every aspect of her compositions. Her works point to our gullibility when presented with what may seem to be straight documentation. A visual omnivore, Tom Holmes borrows, splices and propagates his images so that the subject of his work is confused and hysterical. A composite of text and image, woven in Nepal by traditional rug workers, forces the viewer to consider the ping and pong of global culture production and traditional art forms at the place where kitsch abstraction and contemporary pop collide.

Playing the role of inventor/explorer, Hobza turns the lens onto the museum’s own very odd and unique collection, and creates a work specifically for this location. Drawn to a particularly primitive-looking longwave antenna Hobza is working on a subject she often addresses: codes and the desire to communicate. In Searching for the Longwave, Hobza’s attempts to activate the apparatus realize this exhibition’s theme of frustrated communication. Ellie Ga similarly brings her art practice off the page and into the empirical world. Ga here presents a new work relating to her trip aboard a Polar Schooner, where she spent five months as artist in residence drifting through ice near the North Pole. In Ten Til Two: 10:10, the recollections of this extreme experience are translated through a laborious photographic process which mimics the layers of memory and forgetting. Ga pieces together the complex maps the crew invented to navigate the expanses of ice in which they drifted. A series of slides showing the polar landscape dissolves between light and dark, interspersed with phrases parsed from the crewmembers’ personal diagrams defining their landscape of expansive ice.

In Marcelline Delbecq’s video, Close, we follow a low, hand-held camera in a romp around the over-grown garden and grounds of La Maison Rose in Givérny. Hinting at anecdotes along a spoken walking tour of the interior of the manor, the artist-narrator baits her viewers controlling their experience. Following the frenetic paths of this garden as a course of desire, word and image disconnect again: The subject is once more dodged. Delbecq’s elusive maison is described, but never appears on camera.