Ulrike Heydenreich, Ati Maier, Julie Mehretu, Johanna Winter Harper
This exhibition brings together an international group of artists who share a common interest in markmaking and mapping as ways of narrating public and private space, experience, and memory. Maps are a way of locating and organizing mental, physical, and spatial realities. In his story “On Exactitude in Science”, Jorge Luis Borges writes famously of “a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” Of course, such a map defeats its own purpose, but its poignancy lies in the fact that we can all too easily relate to the desire for comprehension that lies beneath it. In this exhibition, some of the pieces drastically pair down visual information to a few simple elements, while other pieces explode with density. All of the work presents a world in motion—one that cannot be easily fixed—in which individuals and cultures move and collide.
With its sky-blue background and symmetrical composition, Julie Mehretu’s lithograph "Entropia (review)" carries strong associations with a world map—yet this one has gone wild. Patches of abstract pastel patterns hurl through space, as if the colors slid off their appropriate countries to mix and mingle. Borders have been sprung and from the central furrow of architectural order all manner of forms explode outward in layers of dense line and color, creating deep pictorial space. We see a mixing of abstract and representational elements, from diagrams of buildings, staircases, and city streets to dense and lyrical weavings of dots and dashes, blips and blurbs that squiggle under and over each other in a succession of opaque and transparent layers. Migrating hatch marks suggest anything from cloud formations and vegetation, to exploding or fleeing forces.
The titles of these two prints juxtapose utopian ideals of harmony with the potential chaos and disorder found within closed systems. In the monochromatic "Entropia: Construction," we recognize many of the same elements as in the first print. If the world in "Entropia (review)" is clamoring and crowding to the surface, ready to burst out of its frame, this piece invites us to get lost within the delicate traces and trails of floating, overlapping lines. Patches of detail create areas of focus, released by arching swoops that move the eye to the next corner of the composition. As we look closely, the flatness of the page opens up into incredible depth through a dense layering of marks – the paper itself opens up into transparent space.
Rather than fixing and defining, these prints map energies and change. Their world is in motion, fluctuating between known and unknown symbols. The slow, deliberate process of making these prints stands in tension with the combustible energy contained within the imagery. In their very making these pieces illustrates the tension conveyed in the titles: between order and chaos, spontaneity and planning.
Ulrike Heydenreich has created a map for the body in the softly rising and falling terrain of her "Travel Blankets". The piece consists of an extravagantly large grid of plush, cream-colored blankets laid out on the slope of a plywood ramp. The blankets have been embroidered into stratified layers of topography that rest on a backing of movers’ blankets. Three thickly rolled and belted bedrolls rest haphazardly on the ground in front—as if additional coordinates waiting to be added to the grid, or else in preparation for the suggested journey. The German name for the piece (Reisebegleiter/Wegbereiter) combines these two ideas in a wonderfully poetic play on words, collapsing that which prepares the way into a travel companion on the way.
The softness of the materials nearly cries out to be touched, and one is left only to imagine the pleasure of lying down and spreading oneself out on its layers. The stitched edges of each curving ridge of this three-dimensional map seem meant to be explored by hand, while the meandering double-lined path that travels across its surface extends an invitation for dreaming. There is a simple elegance and whimsy to this piece; it seems part treasure map for exploring the interior, and part launch pad—or magic carpet—for discovering the world just beyond the gallery railing and out its windows. One can imagine oneself both ‘in’ this map and on it. It promises gentle comfort for braving unknown terrains, while providing a platform for dreaming, full of possibilities.
If Ulrike Heydenreich leaves the final travel destination up to the imagination, Ati Maier provides a raucous, delightfully colored dream of sci-fi utopias. In the pieces on view, she draws on a multitude of imagery, including space travel, comic books, video games, and computer chips. The paintings are made up of simple shapes of brightly colored wood stain that seeps into the paper creating a slightly translucent effect. The paper itself has a crinkly delicacy to it and an antique coloring that pushes the images backward in time even as they catapult us forward.
In "Superstrings," white lines swirl around wildly, entering and exiting the composition at points marked with goofy little arrows, creating a web of deep three-dimensional space. We see a red sun rising behind a yellow and green banded landscape with space ships tumbling through the air above it. Inserted into this exuberant composition are three diagram-like boxes that seem to give pseudo-scientific analysis of the structural make-up of this fanciful planet.
If there is a clarity and simplicity to "Superstrings," More gives us just what its title implies: a densely packed overabundance of information layered in a manner reminiscent of a graffiti wall. Ati’s name adorns the central air ship that anchors the composition, personalizing the vehicle as a stand-in for the artist’s self. Abstract bands of color overlap with drawings of waterfalls and streams, galaxies, birds, and a romantic grouping of horses. A dark blue grid-like pattern helps tame the chaos within the composition, offering a framework from which floating circular vignettes open up onto other dimensions—or perhaps chapters—of this story. There is a wonderful play between flatness and space, as the dynamic movement of rocket ships links disparate elements within this fantastical drawing. Ati Maier offers us a world of connections in which everything is experienced simultaneously. The complexity of the whole is contrasted with ever expanding miniature worlds nested within one another.
Johanna Winter Harper
Johanna Winter Harper’s work is rooted in a simple reality of her life in Chicago: she commutes. While on the train, she makes drawings. These intimate little "Commuter Drawings" record fragments of architectural forms seen out of the window: a bench, a wheel, the base of an empty truck, the edge of a patio. In these drawings, one form is joined to the next, ignoring gaps in space and time to create new amalgams of quirky, clumsy, experienced space. Blunt pencil lines and soft, watery gouache marks create drawings that hover between abstraction and representation. Hung together in a grid, each represents a particular experience of movement through the social, urban landscape.
In the drawings grouped together as "From point A to point B" and "Neither here nor there," the artist reduces her visual language to a single motif culled from her intuitive responses in the "Commuter Drawings"—a wheel. These drawings are no longer based in direct observation, but in simplification and repetition. The wheel is repeated in large and in small, in bold red paint and in spindly collages. Most importantly, it is linked over and over again to other wheels on the page, creating the impression of hubs, or cogs that together become larger systems of forms. Some of these larger forms have a machine-like, lumbering quality to them as they roll across the whiteness of the page, occasionally contained by a liquid swath of paint. Others float like tendrils, as if we were looking down at them from a great distance.
In these larger drawings, Johanna Winter Harper shows us a web of interrelatedness, yet exactly where point A or point B are, or what they represent, is hard to pin down. Through drastic reduction of visual means, the artist diagrams a world in constant motion, in which the difference between arbitrary connections and purposeful patterns is not always clear. What at first glance seem like playful renderings also strike a note of yearning.
Gallery Director, Bethel University