Today we’re playing catchup on a pair of excellent exhibitions by 2009 Turner Prize finalist Lucy Skaer, Exit, Voice, and Loyalty at Tramway 2 gallery (Glasgow, October 25 – December 15, 2013) and Random House at Peter Freeman gallery (New York City, January 8 – February 21, 2015). These exhibitions show Skaer using autobiographical details as well as shared history to build a wider sense of meaning. The shows (especially the first) come to us almost as an experiment in linguistics or semiotics.
Above image: Installation view of Lucy Skaer, My Terracotta Army, my Red Studio, my Amber Room, 2013.
Exit… had Skaer presenting works that spanned ceramics, film, lithographs, sculpture and woodcuts. The title is a reference to economist Albert O. Hirschman’s essay about change being birthed through dissent. To explore this, Skaer creates references to time, memory, history and domesticity. The gallery states:
Many of the works allude to a time outside of our direct frame of reference, incorporating archaic processes and ancient objects; rare hard woods and precious metals sit alongside the worn stone steps from the house where the artist grew up.
Skaer abstracts such real objects into sculptural forms and symbols, removing them from their original context, and scrambling and unpicking their narrative associations. In doing so she reveals their intrinsic material nature and the ways in which language, meaning and value migrate over time.
Random House revisits the idea of transforming or morphing meaning. Except in this case Skaer starts with a blank slate, symbolized with her work American Images, a series of sculpture using stones mined from a quarry in Lithograph City, Iowa. Narratively, it’s the perfect site for her purpose. The gallery states that Lithograph is a ghost town originally founded to mine limestone. She stole these blocks from the Void and creates substance from nothing, just as limestone is crushed and used in building materials.
Once it’s in play, we cannot hold a monopoly on meaning; it’s a free agent that can be changed and morphed and appropriated. A series of ceramic “lozenges” titled My Terracotta Army, my Red Studio, my Amber Room do not resemble (much) the earlier works they reference, but Skaer appropriates them anyway. One wouldn’t think “Terracotta Army” immediately upon viewing the rows of ceramic sculptures, but Skaer’s title leads us to that association. We do her work for her, searching our linguistic scripts that relate to the Terracotta Army before saying to ourselves, “Oh. The ceramics are arranged row upon row. I guess I can see the connection.” Once it happens, you cannot un-see it; Skaer has staked small claim on your mental turf.
But she gives away as easily as she takes. The exhibition title is a reference to her father’s house. The steps of this home were presented in the exhibition once they were removed and altered by the artist. Skaer freed them from their original context, sacrificing a tiny chunk of her past, and released them into the wild as something new. Use them how you will. They’re free for the taking.
Lucy Skaer was born in Cambridge, England in 1975, according to her biography from Freeman. She earned her degree at the Glasgow School of Art. Her solo exhibitions include Tramway, Glasgow (2013), Yale Union, Portland (2013), Kunsthalle Wien (2012), Kunsthalle Basel (2009), and Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh (2008). She has been included in numerous international group exhibitions at venues including The Renaissance Society, Chicago (2013), The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2013), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2010), Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2010), and K21 Düsseldorf (2010), Tate Britain (2009), the 5th Berlin Biennale (2008), and the 52nd Venice Biennale (2007).
Bill Rodgers is the Managing Editor at cfile.daily.
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