Susan Erony: Towers and Other Thoughts
October 29, 2016 – November 27, 2016
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Trident Gallery is pleased to present Towers and Other Thoughts, an exhibition of mixed media paintings by Susan Erony having motifs of towers and human hands.
Towers and Other Thoughts is the second solo exhibition of Erony’s paintings at Trident Gallery and will be on view October 29 – November 27, 2016. Gallery hours are Saturday 10–7; Friday, Sunday, and Monday 10–5; Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday 12–5, and by appointment.
The gallery is will host an Opening Reception for the artist on Saturday, October 29, 5-7pm. The following weekend, on Sunday, November 6, at 4pm, the gallery will host a Conversation with Susan Erony about her artistic process and recent work.
On Saturday, November 19, at 7pm, the Trident Live Art Series will present Towers and Other Thoughts in Performance, an exploration through performance of ideas and materials informing the exhibition. Spoken text, music, visual art, and dance will be produced by Gallery Director Matthew Swift and Trident Live Art Series Director Sarah Slifer Swift in collaboration with artist Susan Erony. The Gallery will close early at 5pm to prepare for the performance.
The form of the tower and the texts of Kafka entered my work in 1993 with a piece called The Building of the Temple, also the title of a Kafka parable. I used Kafka’s work at the urging of a friend, cultural critic Harvey Blume, and I included the text in the piece:
Everything came to his aid during the construction work. Foreign workers brought the marble blocks, trimmed and fitted to one another. The stones rose and placed themselves according to the gauging motions of his fingers. No building ever came into being as easily as did this temple – or rather, this temple came into being the way a temple should. Except that, to wreak a spite or to desecrate or destroy it completely, instruments obviously of a magnificent sharpness had been used to scratch on every stone — from what quarry had they come? — for an eternity outlasting the temple, the clumsy scribblings of senseless children’s hands, or rather the entries of barbaric mountain dwellers.
I built a temple in the form of a ziggurat, made by using smaller canvases as “stones.” I then worked the surface of the painting to refer to the “scribblings.”
I loved Kafka, but had never thought of using his writing artistically. I had to think about what it meant to incorporate another artist’s work into my own, especially one who had no say in the matter. I could only conceive of doing so as a collaboration with much credit given. Kafka’s words have always made me feel safe, because he clarifies the deep and complex natures of modernity and human behavior. He has helped me make sense of the world as a frustrating, absurd, but wondrous place.
The shape of the ziggurat itself compelled me, reminding me of structural elements I had used before: arches, archways and receding train tracks going into the distance. It led me to the Tower of Babel, pyres, burial mounds, piles of confiscated possessions I had seen at concentration camps, and the haystacks in which my father’s brothers were murdered by Cossacks during Ukrainian pogroms.
The use of text as image was a component of visual work I had always loved, from ancient hieroglyphics, illuminated manuscripts, and Asian calligraphy, to modernist developments from the Futurists on. I began to think about writing more as drawing, as the way we are, in fact, first trained to draw. I wanted to address changes in how we visually record words and how we think about books and reading as technology develops. I wanted and still want to counter those changes by covering the world with handwriting.
The body of work in Towers and other Thoughts reflects these interests, as well as concerns about the human lack of understanding for each other, and even desire to try to understand. The Tower of Babel seemed a right theme for our times in America, when many people are screaming and few are listening.
In Kafka’s parable The City Coat of Arms, he writes of people gathering together to build a Tower of Babel. Things go well at first, and planning progresses but focuses on immediate logistics. The planners start to argue, however, about the belief that future generations would have better tools to build with. Paralysis sets in and instead of the Tower, the workers build a city for themselves. Not all parts are equal, and conflicts break out about who will live where, and become violent. They never end, and so the Tower is put off until there is unity, which will never come. The city grows, generations ensue, and people no longer believe the Tower is possible, but they are too settled to leave. The parable ends thusly:
All the legends and songs that came to birth in that city are filled with longing for a prophesied day when the city would be destroyed by five successive blows from a gigantic fist. It is for that reason too that the city has a closed fist on its coat of arms.
My hope is that the towers in this show will provide places to contemplate our world today, including our places in it.
— Susan Erony
Susan Erony’s art is always engaged with history, is often politically charged, and frequently responds and refers to genocide. Consider a pair of examples from the coming exhibition. Erony’s title Wishing I Were Bruegel refers the viewer to two well-known paintings of the Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525–1569). While paying homage to the exquisite paintings of the Renaissance master, Erony’s painting embodies both the continuity and the change of meaning of the myth over the millennia. Erony’s The Great Wall of China takes its title from a short work of prose by the Czech-born, German-speaking writer Franz Kafka (1883–1924), in which a narrator from the south of China reflects on the remoteness of the Great Wall in the north and the northern barbarians it excludes. The narrator considers the nature and motivations of the forces behind the generations-long construction project, and entertains a rumor that the Wall’s true purpose is a sturdier foundation for a new Tower of Babel. In this way, Erony links the contemporary political implications of Towers and Walls to a story from Genesis via the translated text of a repressed, Modernist, ambivalently Jewish writer’s absurdist parable of China.
This broad range of reference to political history and art history while steadfastly engaged with ethical questions is typical of Erony’s art of studied, intentional mixed media constructions. The motifs of towers and hands visually unify the paintings in Towers and Other Thoughts; and the consistency, over the last 25 years, of Erony’s regular incorporation of texts (often by Kafka, often handwritten), of her choices of unusual media (burned paper, lead, photographs, and acrylic medium), and of the painstaking assiduousness of her practice provide a clear perspective from which to understand and appreciate the new paintings.
Susan Erony was born in 1949 in Boston and has resided in Gloucester since 1995. She attended Rhode Island School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art, Lesley University, and the University for Humanistic Studies in Utrecht, Holland. She has consulted to organizations on issues of art and society, taught and lectured on both art history and art practice, and organized exhibitions. She is currently Visual Artist in Residence for the Gloucester Writers Center. Her art is in prestigious US and European collections and has been shown across North America, and in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy.
— Matthew Swift