Flashbacks: Theresa Hackett at Nigh Noon
Theresa Hackett: Around the Bend at High Noon Gallery
April 8 to May 16, 2021
124 Forsyth Street, between Delancey and Broome streets
New York City, highnoongallery.com
In her show titled Around the Bend, Theresa Hackett leads us through her year of pandemic induced isolation. Uniformly sized, doubled-sided aluminum panels are hung from the ceiling in a zig zag pattern, cleverly dividing space in the deceptively small High Noon gallery. (A selection of unframed works on paper in the back office are also recto-verso, as visitors are free to discover as they are to handle them.) From the start, it’s clear that Hackett is in control of our experience, guiding us through her DMT-release imagery. A subtle consequence of the presentation of the hanging works is the separation from other gallery visitors. This heightened sense of being close—but not too close—is intrinsic to the borderline spiritual experience of viewing this show.
There’s an excitement in walking around a panel that reacts as you displace the air around it. The paintings are animated, fluorescent explosions, its subtle movements only heightening the push and pull of the compositions. Despite the exuberance of the colors, there’s clearly a dark humor running through the show, a cold wintery answer provided for every warm summer embrace. Each panel acts as its own set up and punchline, thwarting any optimistic thought that may seek to escape an anxious cloud hanging over it.
Tactility and touch are integral to these paintings. There are rich sections built up with marble dust and crushed glass in pictures like Supernatural Flashback (side B). The rock-like forms that make up the bottom left corner are reminiscent of a children’s book meant to contextualize abstract ideas like soft and rough, giving a young human something to grasp onto as it discovers the brand-new world around itself. The magma-like ooze that borders the outer edge of the rock amplifies the sense of geologic time. This work feels ancient, with Hackett here to help us excavate and make sense of all this confusing information. The magma-crust is enclosed with a striped band separating the lava from a giant, all seeing eye that could have strayed from a Philip Guston painting, disguised here as a spiral. Again, Hackett is bringing us back in time, the spiral not only being a signifier of the development of fine motor skills, but according to Alexander Calder, “the first gesture of decoration from primitive cultures”. In Supernatural Flashback (Side B), the spiral is a stand in for some form of intelligence. If it ever had control it is clearly losing it as it is usurped by the earth. We’re witnessing a changing of the guard on an imaginably slow timescale. The materials used to make the work echo this sense of deep time. Diatomaceous earth is a medium made of ground fossils and is toxic to insects, dissolving their exoskeletons. A grim irony comes over you thinking about this mineral, especially when considering a picture of nature in revolt. A normally bright, loud acrylic pigment is rendered matte when mixed with it. This d disorients the viewer, allowing the paint to quietly get in on the metaphor
Elizabeth Murray is present in work like Hiding in The Shadows (side A), where two warm, blue fingers pinch inward to crush an unlucky microorganism. The blue appendages are flanked by dark bands embedded with rock like shapes, cementing their solidity and leaving no escape. We imagine the immense pressure that the amoeba-like form must be under, sympathizing with a blob with spirals for organs. Lines dance across the surface, tempting the viewer to run their fingers across it. Would it even notice our light touch? Probably not, but even an innocent seeming gesture is unthinkable in present company. Hackett seems intent to torture us with surfaces that we will never be able to engage with physically. We are forced to settle for longing glances, keenly aware of the danger of our own contact, no matter how brief.
In firmly enmeshing herself within early humanity’s aesthetics, Hackett helps us connect to a prehistoric sense of newness and wonder overlapped with the unrestrained horror at the unfamiliar and unknown. Her work helps us rediscover an essential part of ourselves, long buried by the development of the self and organized society with all its trappings. She seems to be searching for the same answers ancient peoples might have been concerned with thousands of years ago, the main difference being they had no access to bright, fluorescent pigments to express them with, and the fossils to be ground up were still being formed around them. There is also the obvious barrier they had of finding a way to survive every day, distracting them from artistic pursuits. The desperate search for meaning, however, remains a constant through time. The answers they found are lost to us, their spirituality mostly destroyed by modernity and its relentless march forward. Hackett meets modernism on its own terms and flips it, tenderly but decisively making the familiar completely alien, while telling grand stories. In doing so, she finds her place within a rich history of mythmaking to make sense of turbulent times.