Saturday, November 9th, 2013

Red Letter Day: Meg Hitchcock’s Cut-and-Pastes from Scripture

Meg Hitchcock: The Land of Bliss at Studio 10

October 11 to November 10, 2013
56 Bogart Street, at Harrison Place
Bushwick, (718) 852-4396

A one-room gallery in Bushwick provides the unlikely setting for what is arguably one of the most elegant solo shows of the Fall season. Meg Hitchcock, formerly a painter of likable if unexciting lacy abstractions, came up with a fully-formed concept five years ago that sprang to mind, according to the artist, like Athena from the head of Zeus.  Simply put, she would disassemble sacred texts into their individual letters and then reassemble these same letters into passages from other sacred texts. She cuts up Psalm 23 from the Old Testament, for example, and pastes its letters into a passage from the Koran.  A self-confessed heavy reader of religious writings, and literature with a spiritual bent in general, Hitchcock makes literal the deconstruction necessary for the analysis of text.

Met Hitchcock, Amazing Grace, Letters cut from the Bhagavad Gita, 2013.  Courtesy of Studio 10
Met Hitchcock, Amazing Grace, Letters cut from the Bhagavad Gita, 2013. Courtesy of Studio 10

The work’s visual impact is immediate.  Almost exclusively black and white works on paper, they present themselves as simple graphic designs.  A few of them appear as recognizable images – a tree branch, a flaming circle – but most allude to tantric symbols, mandalas, or Kabbalistic images. Their sensuality is undeniable, and one is enticed to closer inspection, and it is at this point that we seethat the images are comprised entirely of typeset letters. By the time one’s noseis mere inches away,,   the work’s austere terrain becomes monumental, the edge of each little square piece of paper – not much bigger than the letter printed on it – standing in relative high relief to the paper it’s glued on.  Hitchcock’s process, in spite of being immaculate in execution, registers as the opposite of mechanized.  Her touch is light and resonates with meditation not drudgery.

Once the viewer is aware that the image is comprised solely of text, they are lead, inexorably, to attempt reading the work.  Which, because they are based on often-familiar texts, proves surprisingly easy.  Not that the entire passage is immediately available to the eye, but the opening thread, “Amazing Grace” for instance, will stand out.  Grabbing that thread will, for the more ambitious, lead into reading more of the text, if only to confirm the derivation of the text. One looks to the wall label for help and is intrigued further: Amazing Grace, Letters cut from the Bhagavad Gita, 2013. On an intellectual pilgrimage, we move from label to label – The Prophets: Surah 21 from the Koran, Letters cut from the Bible (The Book of Psalms), 2013; Mundaka Upanishad, Letters cut from the Koran, 2012; or The Sun: Surah 91 from the Koran, Letters cut from the Bible. The palpable joy of following the artist down this rabbit hole can be transformative.  The single sculpture/installation in the show, Trimalchio’s Feast: The Declaration of Independence, Letters cut from “The Satyricon” by Petronius, 2013, expands on not only the artist’s materials, but on the possible definition of what might be considered a sacred text. There is a vision and a mind at work here.

As the late Arthur Danto often emphasized, the subject of most contemporary art is art itself, a circular dialogue within the art community.  Rarely does an artist find a way to step out of this circle and instead make their art an exploration about who they are as people – how they think, what is important to them on a daily basis – and wed it to a process that not only intimately mirrors this, but allows viewers to actively participate in their discoveries.  Mark Lombardi, whose obsession with conspiracies resulted in exquisitely drawn flow charts, comes to mind as another example of this.  With this kind of art, all the elements – subject, technique, process, materials, and image – are so intertwined, and in such harmony with each other, that they exude a sense of inevitability.  Conversely, and more to the point, aesthetic impact — the pure pleasure derived from engaging with each piece — is ensured by all of these elements being transparent and available to the viewer.  These spare, works manage to be at once, intellectually satisfying, emotionally powerful, and visually stunning.

Met Hitchcock, Amazing Grace, Letters cut from the Bhagavad Gita, 2013.  Detail. Courtesy of Studio 10
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