At a glance, N. Dash’s first solo show at Untitled Gallery uncovers the physical consequences of uprooting painting and sculpture from their respective, contemporary traditions. The works are paintings, because they hang on the wall, bear stretched fabric, and fit our colloquial “painting scale.” But they suspend, squish, encroach, overlap, crumble, sag, and pinch: verbs we usually reserve for sculpture.
Moreover, this work avoids paint and its hallmarks – color, imagery, subjectivity. So is it sculpture? Possibly, but the pervasive passivity of Dash’s work defies that category, which we define more often (but not exclusively) by erect solids. This work gets filed elsewhere. [And speaking of, the series of black and white photos punctuating the show adds a process-oriented angle to Dash’s multifaceted concerns, but I am particularly interested in the larger, linen objects.]
Dash’s materials are insistently organic and characteristically ascetic. The restrictive menu includes adobe, jute, linen, rabbit skin glue, and wood stretchers. In this order, the materials are like a food chain: dirt, plants, animals, and the trees that might outlive them all. Crazy idea? But each piece is called Groundings.
What is missing from this food chain? And what of the naturally, neutrally flesh-colored palette? How does that relate to the folded and wrinkled surfaces, which make me think of human skin?
Dash’s wall-mounted objects simultaneously read as paintings and as sculptures, but the product of this fusion seems to be the human body. Perhaps each work is a surrogate for the artist or another individual. However, the compound compression in each piece evinces intimate company. In Groundings (3), two adobe monoliths squeeze a sheet of linen, which buckles under the pressure. Or maybe it is firmly nestled in a comforting grip.
In Groundings (4), a linen looks crumpled, as if recently released from the grip of a giant fist. It precariously drapes over its taut counterpart – or perhaps it comfortingly, protectively conceals it. In Groundings (1), adobe-fortified jute is bare (nude?) on one end, while supporting a near-lifeless linen on the other. These pairings continue through each work, and the “passivity” seems interchangeable. Does this work embody a romance? If so, how is it gendered?
Incidentally, a VIP at the opening remarked that the work looks like it was made by a man, even though it wasn’t. Is that the same thing as saying that it doesn’t look like it was made by a woman? Perhaps women are closer to the earth, and that helps keep N. Dash on terra firma.