This Saturday, July 31, is the closing day for Dayna Thacker’s exhibition, Pivots of Moment and the Structure of Accumulation, at Barbara Archer Gallery.
During her artist talk last month, Dayna Thacker piqued my curiosity when she mentioned that the imagery of her collage titled Implied Agreement by Tenant (Higher Still) was in part inspired by the Slavic legend of the Baba Yaga. Like many other fairytale witches, the Baba Yaga can fly by means of a broom (or a giant mortar and pestle) and likes to spend her time inventing new ways of tormenting small children. She also is a figure of untold wisdom and, in some stories, lives in a cabin with enormous walking chicken legs. The anecdote intrigued me, but it sadly was one of several details I was unable to address in my forthcoming review in print.
The Baba Yaga’s ambulatory home was one of Hayao Miyazaki’s sources behind his designs for the 2004 animated film, Howl’s Moving Castle.
But how significant are such cultural references to our interpretation of Thacker’s exhibition? What do we gain by considering source material that informs contemporary art? What do we miss by concentrating on it too much?
Excerpts from my full review appear in italics underneath the images below.
Asian influences are prominent in one of Thacker’s previous works, A Map of Heaven, 2006-2009. From far away the design resembles a Tibetan mandala, while closer inspection reveals architectural schematics with details all the way down to closets and, yes, even toilets.
Then again, putting too much emphasis on an Eastern interpretation would be a mistake. … Another previous work, John Barleycorn Must Die, 2007, shares its name with the 1970 album by the British rock band, Traffic, not to mention the hero of an old English folk song.
The [current] exhibition contains two related bodies of work. In over a dozen small collages, the artist populates nonsensical landscapes with a cast and crew of paper-cutout figures. Scenes such as Breathing Room, 2009, are light, oftentimes comical, and were obviously a joy to create.
The bulk of Pivots of Moment and the Structure of Accumulation, however, comprises several larger panels depicting houses with walls made of found paper. Thacker simulates the nuances of three-dimensional space by aligning differing shades and crosshatching patterns of text.
We see an imposing building loom into view. Its architecture is vaguely medieval, but its features are shifted out of time, slightly outside the confines of realistic perspective. Some parts are replaced altogether; Thacker uses a photograph of a stone archway instead of making one herself, substituting an unexpected realism for something more fake. Despite its modest proportions, the structure blocks out the horizon with its girth, and its doors and windows are shuttered closed or darkened out, thwarting the viewer’s urge to peer inside. As in all the other works on display, Thacker constructs the walls of this house with collaged pages from old books—anything from Nathaniel Hawthorne to even a passage written in German, printed in Gothic script. [Click here for a closer look. The image may take a moment to load.]
Cultural sources figure prominently in these works. Thacker considers each house to be a kind of psychological portrait of a modern individual; the “structures of accumulation” referenced in her exhibition title are created by the endless streams of information we digest every day.
Exercising our powers of sight helps to remind us why visual art has a role distinct from other forms. Music and film and literature and philosophy: These traditions each have their own vocabularies, their own unique avenues of excellence.
As I maintained the last time I conducted this experiment, analogies make it easier for us enter the artist’s world and begin to find our own way. But what makes a work of art excellent are the myriad ways it synthesizes materials, color, design, and theme and teaches us how to see anew.
Barbara Archer Gallery is open for regular hours Thursdays and Fridays, 11AM-6PM, and Saturdays, 11AM-5PM.