Fragments – The Brooklyn Railroad
March 17 – April 16, 2022
Sculptors Siobhan Liddell and Linda Matalon bring to life the spaces shared between human beings and the spaces they leave behind. In this exhibition of drawings, sculptures and ephemera dating back to Matalon’s sculpture of 1991 Hang II and arrive in the present with Liddell’s 2019 nobody’s world, the spaces are labeled with tales of mourning, love and ecstasy. Curator Ksenia Soboleva weaves the practices of these two artists in and out of the global context of the AIDS epidemic, bringing an overlooked but vital lesbian presence into a well-honed art history. The exhibition does not end with AIDS: it follows the artist’s work (particularly that of Liddell) into the 21st century, and offers a lens through which to follow their practices.
Vase by Linda Matalon in mesh and wax, Hang II (1991), begins the exhibition: the wax is malleable and easily contaminated by gravel and dirt (in this case tar), referring to the fragility and bruising of the human body. Its presentation, limply suspended by a thread, is an explicit evocation of abjection, but also contains a kinetic freedom of movement. His drawings investigate the physics of swaying, suspension, and precariousness through pulsating lines of graphite, oil stick stains, and shiny amorphous glue stains, culminating first in the preparatory drawing. Untitled (1992), a line of ghostly bulbous undulating tubes hanging and twisting, then in 1993’s seminal sculpture Goodbye to all my drag queens. Goodbye to all my drag queens is a line of ten long limb-like objects hanging on a wall, the left half black and the right half beige. These shapes are more regular than those in the drawing, evoking stockings or stockings, but like the drawings they read as both tubes and tortured legs, representing the simplest outline of a living creature. or dying.
Siobhan Liddell’s fragments of life begin, in this exhibition, with her series of bronze sculptures from 1998: “Spaces Between Two Bodies” (two works of the same title), “Between Two Bodies” (also two works of the same title) , and plaster Pause (1998). These works catalog the negative space around and between living human forms, and express both a joyful interaction, as we imagine bodies rolling in pleasure and love, but also the relics of something that was once there. but who is now gone. A second current of thought is exhibited in Liddell’s considerations on light – first in his glass rods (1994), a set of four solid glass cylinders of different widths, lengths and shades of blue installed on the ground, reminiscent of that of Walter De Maria The broken mile (1979) but on an individual and luminescent human scale. While the Body and Pause the sculptures aim to cling to the space of intimacy, glass rods is to capture light in a tangible object. Liddell explored light further during a residency at the American Academy in Rome where she became obsessed with the Pantheon’s oculus, here depicted by the four Footprint (2012) print – a scan of a hand with a roughly cut oculus revealing a variety of meaningful images – an eye, the oculus of the pantheon, etc. nobody’s world (2019) is a simple diorama – Liddell punched a round hole in an accordion-folded freestanding photograph of a hand reaching out and taking something – the oculus. The picture stands vertically on a wooden plinth, a momentary sculpture framing an ever-changing circular window.
I had the chance to moderate a discussion between Liddell, Matalon and Soboleva for the Brooklyn Rail’s New social environment episode #530. The juxtaposition of various pieces by the artists particularly struck Matalon, especially the placement of his piece Crop (1997) next to Pause by Liddell. Crop is a set of two trapezoidal wire baskets, and Pause is a pair of wall prints/casts created from the negative space between two bodies; a white form, a black form. The two sets of materialized spaces are emblematic of each artist’s distinct yet deeply connected methodologies for engaging with absence – porous and transient in Matalon, while that in Liddell seeks to freeze and hold the moment. The exhibition is rich in these moments which, rather than provoking the gaze to compare the two artists, invite us to see from alternate points of view. It is deeply moving to see these two points of view revisited, intertwined and contextualized in this exhibition.