Patience is often required for self-referential art. The self is almost always more fascinating and important to the one who inhabits it.
A handsome, ordinary tress of reddish-brown hair hangs near the gallery entrance. Called simply “Hair Piece,” inquiry reveals that it was cut from the head of the artist herself, Lindsey Hook. Is this really supposed to be an important work of art? That is probably the question which the artist wished to provoke. There’s nothing new about that provocation, but so what? It defiantly proclaims the artist’s creative existence in an exhibit titled “A Life Lived,” rather than “A Life’s Work.”
The rest of Lindsey Hook’s work displays more craft but remains more about what the hand can do than what the eye can see or the mind can think. The subject is that most essential and immediate inner activity: breathing. She has carved a pair of lungs out of black walnut wood. Small (seven inches high), dark and lumpish they suggest, at least to me, the hazards of smoking, though this is possibly not intended. Beside it hangs a sheet of text that repeatedly counts up to six. Titled “Circular Breathing,” its traditional Roman script is simple, elegant and well-spaced. On the opposite wall, a more ornate script endlessly repeats the words “inhale exhale,” in black ink on black paper, and then in white ink on white paper. Not especially easy to read—and probably even more difficult to execute—it would seem to be some kind of spiritual exercise. It works as penance, but not especially as visual art. You will have to look elsewhere for the glories of calligraphy.
Karen Azarnia is more of a visual artist. She inhabits her paint, and vice-versa, as if paint were among her body fluids. She has a special sensitivity to how it stains or drips, and to how light falls upon or passes through it. In “There and Back,” we might be seeing a young woman calmly recovering from major surgery. In “A Certain Kind of Light,” we could be looking at the ceiling of a recovery room as a patient would see it—exhausted yet hopeful, while lying on her back. In her two abstract paintings, we seem to see natural forces that are as soft, fluid and quiet as the operation of abdominal organs. These pieces are not explicitly about medical events, yet they relate to that kind of basic internal experience.
Heroic selves, outsider selves, tragic selves—many kinds of dramatic selves can compel attention in self-referential art. But what about the ordinary self—the one that’s run, day in, day out, by the autonomic nervous system? I don’t find it all that interesting as a subject for art. I’d rather experience it in a yoga class. But both of these artists have demonstrated technical abilities that might well be applied elsewhere. A thousand years ago these two meticulous, contemplative artists would have been well-employed in a medieval monastery, one copying sacred texts and the other painting icons. (Chris Miller)
Lindsey Hook and Karen Azarnia, ““A Life Lived” shows through October 7 at Abryant Gallery at Mana Contemporary, 2233 North Throop.