Portable Mind brings together five, distinctly different artists united in their respective sensitivity and response to the concept of “place”. Each artist explores the concept of “place” from varied perspectives: cultural, environmental, linguistic, political, historical, and imaginary.
Martha Clippenger’s pattern-based works are inspired by sustained, sensitive observation of “place” and its inextricable link to language, while living in Oaxaca, Mexico. During her extended stay there, she says, “ I was able to notice how the light transformed surfaces, hourly, daily, monthly…..how an afternoon shower would soften the light while heightening the saturation of each wall's color.” In Oaxaca, Martha studied natural wool dyeing and collaborated with Zapotecan weavers to create a series of rugs or “tapetes” of her own designs. Titling the works in Zapotec, an indigenous Mexican language which Martha also studied, pays homage to the weavers while simultaneously imbuing the series with a quiet level of political manifestation and presence. One language dies every 14 days in the world.
Steve DeFrank gives color and form to the imaginary “place” of America, circa the 1960’s. His vibrant, atmospheric works, while initially reading as iconic abstract paintings, actually depict the floor plans of the homes from his much-beloved and much-watched 60’s sitcoms such as I Love Lucy, Leave it to Beaver, The Jetsons or Bewitched. As Steve recounts ”I spent the majority of my childhood in a space that never existed.” Further intersecting imaginary “place” with geometric abstraction, the intriguing forms of another sixties symbol of privilege and leisure, kidney or otherwise-shaped in-ground swimming pools, are rendered in a grid of shimmering colors. Steve’s ongoing investigation of artifice and the desire to unite illusion and reality is sustained.
In Margaret Lanzetta’s series, Arid Cultivars, photographic images of North American prized botanical “cultivars” are cut up and re-configured into stylized, traditional North African “zellij” tile patterns. By conflating references to widely disparate cultures, political systems, geographic and climatic regions, horticultural science, and historic systems of gardening and architecture, one’s sense of “place” is disoriented and questioned. Cultivars belong to a variety of plants intentionally selected from a natural species and grown through human intervention. As also a contemplation on horticultural science, Arid Cultivars both acclaims and questions the intense hybridization and propagation which often enables new cultivars and GMO’s to flourish in formerly inhospitable “places”.
For inter-disciplinary artist, Jodie Lyn-Kee-Chow, “place” originates in her rich Caribbean and Chinese ancestry. Working from a feminine perspective, and expanding beyond ancestry, Jodie’s evocative installations and site-specific public performances also assiduously investigate the environment as a cultural and political tool. Issues of cross-cultural identity are poetically woven with a deep sensitivity to the natural world. Nature, from the Caribbean to Staten Island, China to Long Island City, becomes a vivid, lush and sometimes violent metaphor for issues of immigration, cultural exploitation, environmental degradation, and the colliding forces of capitalism and consumption.
Like Jodie, environmental concerns figure in David Packer’s work. In glowing, happy colors, his ceramic/ found plastic installations address the conflict between vanishing craft traditions rooted in specific “places”, in this instance Morocco, and anonymous, mass-produced plastics, flooding the world, destined to become detritus. Also, using charts to establish “place”, David constructs modern maps of socially, spiritually and politically charged sites around the world in a format referencing ancient South Pacific stick charts: grid constructions of coconut fiber and shells representing islands and major ocean swell patterns. These charts allowed successful ocean navigation for thousands of miles without compass, astrolabe or other mechanical device. Re-purposing this charting system, David maps a specific contemporary airport, seaport, river confluence and temple; “places” redolent with possible conflict, but also “places” of travel and transformation, both physically and spiritually.
Margaret Lanzetta, Artist and Curator