On this month at Ortuzar Projects in New York, artist Cathy Wilkes has orchestrated a subtle, yet incisive series of paintings, sculptures and readymades that continue her work in establishing tenuous and compelling narratives through delicate spatial arrangements. Marking her first show in New York since her her acclaimed solo exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2017, this new installation combines subtle paintings, objects, and Wilkes’ characteristic papier-mâché figures. Visions of landscapes and interiors from her childhood are often recognizable in the work, collapsing and reforming time and space repeatedly. Employing what the artist has called “hypostatic abstraction and intense social realism,” the exhibition conveys themes of separation, suffering, infancy, and fragility.
Wilkes grew up in Northern Ireland, and her work often contends with the lingering after effects of her childhood, meditating on brutality, loss, and continuity, especially in this most recent show. The softness of her presentation creates a zone of eerie uncertainty, anxiety, and empathy—a space of contemplation in which viewers are invited to look and look anew. These are works that draw pain and contemplation from simple household objects and direct, confrontational depictions of the body. A central sculpture, dressed in torn fabrics and missing a leg, emphasizes a bodily rupture and a sense of violence, while the small elements positioned by her works bring that sensibility into a distended awareness of the domestic.
Evoking the banalities of a lived life and the pathos inherent to it, Wilkes builds an enigmatic language told through objects and the oft-unperceived emotional states that accompany them. The evocative assemblages give access to a fiercely private inner world, disturbing and reassigning the relationship between subject and object. “The smallest particle of suffering is the object,” the gallery text reads, “and I, the subject who acts upon the object, am every atom unfolding from the womb. An atom here among us and another atom in a far away galaxy are inseparable epitomes of the same.”
The canvases seem to evoke a middle ground between the repose of these familiar objects and the violence inherent on the body, trace gestures and movements across the surface that leave delicate yet perceptible marks. Wilkes seems to operate in a language of trauma here, but not in a clear reading, rather exploring the lingering effects, the environment and the body as parts of a whole. Standing in the silence of the gallery environment, the show manages to speak loudly on the nature of violence and power, memory and loss.
The show closes October 22nd.
– D. Creahan
Cathy Wilkes at Ortuzar [Exhibition Site]