The Austin Chronicle

Arts Review

Reviewed by Nikki Moore, September 8, 2006, Arts

"Gladys Poorte and Naomi Schlinke"

D. Berman Gallery, through Sept. 30

What surprises me every time I hear artists and curators speak or write about process art is that the emphasis is always on the interaction of materials in an environment or under specific conditions, and what goes unmentioned is the "creatorly" power of the artist herself. D. Berman's joint exhibition of work by Naomi Schlinke and Gladys Poorte is an illumination of this tension in the extreme. On one side of the gallery, Schlinke's work is a striking and stirring shrine to event- and materials-oriented imagery where the hand of the artist is desperately trying to erase itself. Made with only India ink and clay-board, Schlinke's creations have an organic and biological appeal. They are, as the artist describes them, "materials under stress" in an uncertain milieu. Working on macro and micro scales, these images of what happens when ink falls prey to pressure, time, and manipulation are beautiful – but if and only if you also consider, say, bacteria under a microscope beautiful. The parallel herein is more intimate than the artist reveals or possibly even realizes. Though Naomi Schlinke describes her work as simply process and "not reliant on cultural signifiers," it is indeed, outside of the Blanton's recent "New, Now, Next" and "Paul Chan" exhibits, one of the most sign-posting works of cultural revelation I have seen in the last two years in Austin art. It is an indication of just how diligently contemporary culture is trying to erase its own ego from the world in which we live: It is an indication of just how badly we hope to describe our own existence as simple systems and elegant materials under unknown stress.

On the other side of the gallery, Argentinian Gladys Poorte's work is another very different experiment in "creatorly-ness." A more blatant yet clever play on social utopias – of humanity creating its own heavens and hells in playful junk, in plastic, wood, glass, metal, and liquid-filled objects – which, as the subject matter for the artist's still lifes, become brilliantly painted cities against equally brilliant images of sky and sunset. The artist's hand and eye are everywhere present, from the unique brush technique on the painted surface to the designation of form, space, and perceptual depth in the works themselves. This becomes most evident in the shift from the larger works, which show what seem to be city and culture scapes, to Poorte's newer and smaller views on what she calls the potential inhabitants of the larger scenes. As the paintings shrink in size, the glow in the works diminishes, as well, but whether this is a reflection on the artist's view of the individual versus society or simply an attempt to test the "cuteness" of the figures involved is left for the viewer to resolve. Yet as this comment wanders into the hazy region of interpreting an artist's intent, what is crystal clear in Poorte's work is her own human presence. And though it has been a while since contemporary art has been so honest about its own making, the juxtaposition of Poorte and Schlinke is a provocative reintroduction of these reoccurring themes.

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