A few months back I visited a few galleries in Chelsea, Zach Feuer being one of them. A show by Dasha Shishkin was on view and I was intrigued and haven’t stopped thinking about it ever since. Finally I said enough is enough, let’s sit down and write about it. The artist has been in my radar for a couple years, having seen her work at the Greater NY show at P.S. 1 and taking up an entire booth for the gallery at the last Armory fair. Seeing the show was all that was needed to convert me to a devout follower.
There’s a variety of elements in this exhibition that combined together made it so convincingly complete and mesmerizing. First let’s talk about the works themselves.
Upon entering the gallery you’re greeted by a cascade of paintings that are assertive, bold, and large. Starring into each one I was mesmerized by the riveting flow of shape and colors, the figures and non-figures flowing, floating, mending and blending into and atop each other. There is a golden hue behind each painting, creating a glow and brightness that accentuates without being loud or attention-bearing. The patterns found in the background, whether floor, or wall or objects are intermingled and webbed together with the patterns of clothing worn by figures outlined in blue, black, green and red. It’s a hodge podge collage of disturbed action, with no clear narrative or motivation, all suggesting some odd surrealistic dream that is subtly sexy and violent, elusive and suggestive, simultaneously jarring and soothing.
The press release mentions the artist being presented as “benevolent creator, witness, and detached teller, but not a judge.” As if she were an ambivalent participant in what she creates with the brush. It’s a bit hard to believe considering there seem to be elements too specific to have been created without some personal attachment. I’d hypothesize that the imagery stems form a journalistic collection of imagery, thoughts, dreams, and stories. All lacking narratives because narratives make sense and these are non-sensical, dysfunctional and un-decodable moments within an other history. They function outside rationale, coherence, and sound understanding. It stirs the neurotic, subconscious, and disturbed fantasies that toy around my own head everyday, serving as an escape, willing or not, from what can be a monotonous reality.
Then there are the titles. The press release mentions “Shishkin does not narrate the stories from which the images come, but presents them to the viewer to decode.” The titles serve as aphorisms that seem outside and beyond the works they depict, but maybe not, that’s where we the viewers come in and attempt to take these multiple parts and make sense out of it. But I don’t want to make sense out of them. I love that Questions tempt you to tell lies is a large unstretched canvas with swaths of gold receding into a grid with two foreign abstract morphic forms engaging in some sexual ritualistic act and all we can do is imagine they are live forms confessing and lying and instigating. This can be too prescribing and detrimental to the work in itself, but I’m enjoying this activity, an engagement with the elements within and outside of the canvas.
In the back room there were a few wallpaper works, cut up chintz manipulated and overworked with a slew of pattern concocted with repetition and abstraction. What was once a neutral, decorative and lifeless form of consumption comes alive with accentuated organic and bulbous forms, creating static and jarring movements.
Then, there’s the most riveting part of the exhibition. The installation. I have never seen anything like it, maybe I haven’t been out enough. But this was just an out-of-body experience for me. Most of the works on canvas were unstretched, hanging raw in various heights, and then SCRUNCHED together, in one corner. A compacted claustrophobic center of intense activity, nightmarish and hyperemotional, it recalled a disturbed psychosis that’s as obsessive as it is compulsive, an all or nothing need for visual consumption. It was fantastic, and dare I say, orgasmic.
There were also these black lines circulating the gallery, serving as some sort of titillating modicum of sterilization and balance. It emphasized a failed attempt to create an interior space that isn’t jarring or disruptive. The wallpaper works are cut in uneven sizes and again, installed in bunches, one attached along a corner as if having mistaken the measurement for proper hanging. The black lines seem to comment that yes these are artworks that can sold and hung in your home, and this is how I suggest you install them, but of course be aware it isn’t going to be pretty. Not pretty at all.