June 2, 2023 by Tris McCall
ou don’t have to be squeamish or euphemistic to think of the lavatory as the reading room. Bathrooms guarantee a kind of solitude that can be hard to find elsewhere in the apartment, and reading requires concentration. If you’re in the loo, you’re (probably) not on the computer. As literacy continues its agonizing decline, the lavatory looks like a redoubt for the printed word and its true believers.
As the electrifying “Founder’s Day” exhibition at Eonta Space (34 DeKalb) makes clear, Lauren Farber’s relationship to print and reading is a vexed one. But she’s certainly aware of the relationship between text and the toilet. Farber has constructed an indoor outhouse right in the middle of the Eonta floor (don’t worry, it’s for display only) and wallpapered it with pages torn from machine manuals, philosophical texts, Yiddish lessons, and holy books. Sitting in Farber’s booth is akin to getting smothered by words. It’s at once exhilarating and asphyxiating — the tacit protest of a hounded woman who feels chased by Big Ideas into the most private of spaces.
Elsewhere, Farber gets her revenge. “Founder’s Day” includes an entire case of torched tomes, spines roasted a charcoal black, illegible and un-openable, their riddles answered in the most incendiary fashion. The scorched pages don’t stop at the shelf, either. They blow out to the courtyard, where they bunch up like kindling in the fire pits and augur the incendiary experience inside. Take them as advanced notice of an accidentally but fully immersive three person show, and a provocative highlight of tonight’s JC Fridays schedule.
EONTA shows tend to fill the indoor environment to its corners with light, color, and happenstance, and “Founder’s Day” is a particularly vigorous turn of the kaleidoscope. Farber’s pieces share the floor with the giant cloth sculptures, friendly and flopsy as a Muppet, by her Eonta partner Bayard. Dan Peyton, the third member of this anarchic triumvirate, adorns the walls of the space with silk-screened images of overseas scenes. There’s no effort made to designate any area of the gallery for any particular artist; instead, it’s one for all and all for one. Given the playful chaos that attends to the Eonta experience, it’s remarkable how coherent the show is. It turns out that all three of these troublemakers are pushing in the same direction — only at different speeds and degrees of remonstrance. They’re all engaged in spiritual journeys, and putting hard questions to the angels in direct and forceful visual language. If they’ve got to construct an outhouse to make their points, they’re darn well going to give us an outhouse.
Of the three, Peyton takes the gentlest approach. His silk-screened images are blown-up pages of a travelogue, winsome and inviting, but texturally fragile and more than a little remote. These are pictures of fading memories, callbacks to places to which the artists is unlikely to return. Even the more abstract pieces radiate grief and loss, and a feeling that something cherished has slipped away. The great feathery heaps of fabric assembled by Bayard are a splashier and more forceful entreaty to the heavens. The sculptor attaches torn ribbons of cloth in great billowing bunches and invites visitors to interact with them. The largest — and one of the show’s centerpieces — is a plush framework in the general shape of a winged angel. When you stand in the middle of the piece and don the cherub’s attire (Bayard will encourage you to), it’s almost impossible not to cast your eyes heavenward. It’s like stepping into a prayer.
But it’s Farber who sings the loudest, in a fierce, keening tone that makes reverberations that go far past the former carriage house that now contains the gallery. Books are her medium, and she treats them roughly. Farber wraps thick chains around a stack of science texts, fastens the padlock, and renders them inaccessible. She pulls out pages, folds them and binds them together in floral stacks, a kind of literary ikebana, and lets them bloom into towers and cylinders in black and white. Farber cuts religious symbols into the pages of holy tomes — one opened, tellingly, to the apocalyptic Book of Daniel — and impales “The Search for God” on a pole. She’s slicing and stacking, recombining, artfully mutilating, assembling wordy totem poles from library stacks.
Yet amazingly, her pieces don’t feel hostile to literacy or knowledge. They’re accusatory, maybe, but never derogatory. They speak instead of frustration with the inadequacy of language, and the desire to cut deeper to the heart of matters than the printed word will allow. Farber is looking to unlock something in these books that the texts themselves won’t readily give up. Like the other two founders, she’s fighting back against the encroachment of darkness, looking for answers, and upsetting the apple cart whenever she can. Her art is a personal intervention in the long, slow slide of time, and a riposte to the forces that have taken away more than she can bear to lose. Some people build cloth sculptures to attract the attention of the angels, and others make prints of faraway places in order to inscribe their beauty on frail memory. Others take a sacred book and rip it apart in a quest to free the God it contains, or fold it up and stack the pages into a private Tower of Babel. Sometimes, these odd, inspired quests coincide, and that coincidence makes it clear that they’re really all the same quest.
It’s no more than a ten minute walk from Eonta Space to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (38 Duncan). If you’re overwhelmed by “Founders Day” and you’re looking for the visual arts equivalent of a chillout tent, you could do far worse than a trip to Carr Hall, the church’s newly renovated arts space, for the final night of a luminous show that suits its meditative setting. There, curator Amy Neufeld is exhibiting work by two of the more harmonious artists in town: painter and sculptor Katie Niewodowski and the illuminator Rita Jimenez. “The Sacred and the Sublime” is an exercise in radiance. It promises poise, and it delivers. In a scene filled with artists who are productively off-kilter, he’s a pair of creators who are remarkably balanced — at least for this show.
Jimenez plays with light the way a deejay plays with beats: mixing, probing, swamping the audience and letting the rhythms ebb, cross-fading, and cranking up the intensity at strategic moments. She’s got a film in the show that’s mesmerising even though it means to be, and a series of accompanied images that keep the refractions going. Meanwhile, Niewodowski’s new work feels like a peer through the microscope at a world more crystalline, more colorful, and more cooperative than ours. Her latest paintings are petri-dish circles inhabited by purple blooms, gleaming paintings ribbed like the gills of mushrooms, cell-like amalgamations in pleasant order, and a few rubber-looking statues of alien but pleasant life forms. Though they’re discrete works of art, there’s a mycelium-like connection between all of these pieces with lots of aesthetic crosstalk audible to those who’d care to listen. It’s the biological structure of an enchanted forest she’s showing us, right there in one of the town’s most winsome houses of worship.