Art, with an Asterisk

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Art, with an Asterisk

SANTA FE, NM — Asterisks are akin to marginalia, the footnote, the aside, the afterword. Legacy Russell, curator and author of Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (2020), pulls focus with her 2021 lecture “On Footnotes,” in which she considers footnotes “as a conceptual and theoretical frame and radical site of black, queer, and feminist and decolonized creative praxis.” A three-woman show at form & concept, ***, announces itself by way of these grammatical directives of divergence and features the work of New Mexico-based artists Jami Porter Lara, Erin Mickelson, and Kate Ruck. 

The gallery is spare and somber at first glance. Porter Lara’s “Terms and Conditions” (2021), a slowly blinking neon asterisk, casts an insistent, electric white glow on the room. The works on view are based on and around language. They confront, according to the press release, “paradigms of art space as white space, and identity as fixed or nameable … The artists are linked by their explorations of legacy, inheritance, indigeneity, and whiteness.” 

Jami Porter Lara, “Terms and Conditions (2021”, white neon, transformer, flasher, 21 x 21 x 2 3/4 inches, edition of 7

Asterisks are the vernacular territory of structural shift and world-building. And they can be frisky. Kate Ruck’s “Vanishing Point” (2022), large and uncanny, features a bark-laminated bas-relief of the vintage Microsoft Windows logo. The material and scale shift renders the cultural icon almost unfamiliar. Ruck works between New York and New Mexico, studied video game design, and has managed the studios of heavy-hitting artists Camille Henrot and Charles Ross. 

Ruck’s sculptural objects mediate today’s IRL experience: the intractable mix of AFK — an acronym for “away from keyboard” originating in 1990s online chat rooms to explain the state of being between digital and analog worlds — and digital identity construction. Ruck’s other sly showstopper “Speak, Friend and Enter” (2022) depicts an action card from a role-playing game that she transformed with a Jacquard loom into a tapestry, stretched and framed.

Kate Ruck, “Speak, Friend and Enter” (2022), woven cotton tapestry, 80 x 60 inches, edition of 12 plus 2 AP

The card glibly extols the virtues of capitalist Anthropocene and includes Ruck’s imprint in the margins of the mimicry. Lately, there’s been an intergenerational resurgence of these original role-playing games. What is most surprising in Ruck’s works is its embrace of haptic materiality (fiber/soft and bark/rough) that creates a counter-body to the gloss and screens of digital life. 

Asterisks, then, also signal study. Erin Mickelson, a book artist, printmaker, and publisher based in Santa Fe, downshifts the tone in the room. Her formally minimal works span blind embossed letterpress prints, etched plexi, gilded quills, and an accordion book centering the room. Mickelson’s handmade book “Trace” (2021) acts as a key for me to her other works. She dedicated the book to Gertie Jordan, “who kept her Oneida language and survived her years at Carlisle Indian School.”

Erin Mickelson, “Language Is a Body (Survive)” (2022), letterpress on Rives BFK, 14 x 18 inches (unframed), edition of 5

The work proposes that text be experienced as a body, with each page of the star-shaped book presenting words that constitute parts of the human body: in bold text, the Oneida language Mickelson is learning, and in subscript, its translation to English. This work shares a pulse with sacral forms and functions of art, devotion and study. Art here is an intimate learning tool to connect with ancestors, past and future, and to transform trauma into a tool.  

Finally, Jami Porter Lara, a conceptual artist based in Albuquerque, wields the asterisk as a warning sign. “We’re Just Not Going to Talk About It” (2018), an edition of framed lithographs of white ink on white paper, channels the underbelly of unchecked collusion and racism. Viewers can be seen adjusting and contorting their bodies to render the message.

Hidden in plain sight, and hard to pin down, the text demands negotiation of its legibility. What’s not said in these missives, the omissions, speaks of the violence of Eurocentric White centrality — in art histories, institutions, and this country at large.  

Jami Porter Lara, “We’re just not going to talk about it” (2018), set of 5 lithographs, 8 x 10 inches (each), edition of 7

Porter Lara’s ambitious, site-specific wall work, “Wall Drawing 305: The Location of 100 Random Specific Points of Whiteness (after Sol LeWitt)” (2022) channels the conceptual praxis of decentering for which LeWitt has come to be known. The drawing plots her personal biography as a dispersed, non-linear, queer, mixed-race map of relational points. The work’s strength is its keen awareness of debt as the racialized core of American history. I’m thinking here of Fred Moten and Stefano Harney who have led legions in this discourse with their PDF/video and book, respectively, The University: Last Words (2020) and The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (2013).

And as a side note (because, asterisk), I can’t shake a particular sapphic reference, perhaps as salient as LeWitt: Alice Pieszecki’s “chart” which (in)famously maps all of LA’s lesbian intrigue in television’s The L Word. Can’t we ever really escape our identities?  

Can’t we though? Ruck’s work prompts role-play and portals, Mickelson works in the people’s medium of print and uses language as revival, and Porter Lara interrogates shifts in the inheritances of whiteness. Identity, like language and art, is a collective practice and isn’t singular or fixed. *** emphasizes the shifts necessary in decolonized world-building.

Jami Porter Lara creating “Wall Drawing 305” (2022) at form and concept

*** continues at form and concept (435 South Guadalupe Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico) through June 25. The exhibition was curated by the gallery.

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