Remains of the Day: Hildur Ásgeirdóttir Jónsson and Kaveri Raina at Abattoir Gallery
Cleveland’s newest gallery, Abattoir, is named for the meat-industry term, meaning “slaughterhouse,” in honor of the original function of the Hildebrandt sausage-producing complex where the space is located. Making its debut in 2020, a punishing year of pandemic and social upheaval, the name and the place might seem disturbingly appropriate. The gallerist-proprietors, Lisa Kurzner and Rose Burlingham, are curators with long experience on the northern Ohio scene (they last worked together at 2018’s FRONT Triennial exhibition). Their first exhibit in the new space is quietly terrific, successfully conveying a sense of rare aesthetic gravitas.
Making spare images that combine the cultural resonance of weaving and fiber textures, layered and stained with applications of paint – alluding to rock and grass, shadow and sinew — the two artists on view in Abattoir’s initial exhibition are unusually well-matched, harmonizing across the main room of the gallery and continuing briefly around a corner in an office space.
Kaveri Raina paints on burlap, yet her paintings as displayed have a print-like distance from the hand of the artist. What we’re shown in her finished images is paint that has soaked through from the other side of stretched surfaces, penetrating the rough weave to form interlocking, figurative-seeming puddles of gray, green, sienna, or brownish red acrylic. The effect approximates natural processes of oozing and seepage, as if the forms that Raina generates are somehow natural, directed by a power beyond that of conscious intention, whether physical or psychological.
One of the most striking compositions here is a larger rectangular work titled “Held, To Hover.” Oriented horizontally, Raina’s intersecting, melting, spreading forms suggest two figures, discovered in a pose that could suggest themes of sorrow and sacrifice in many different iconographic contexts. A figure of sorts is spread horizontally across the burlap panel, supported by a vertical shape rendered in blue. This impression that the painting in fact shows a person or spirit. cradled on the lap of another, is made more definite by the presence of foot-like configurations on the left, and by a knee-like arrangement of blue paint at center-bottom. The painting could almost be an arrangement of colored shadows, or reflections, cast on a floor or wall by a medieval stained-glass Pieta, but for the fact that on the right Raina takes a leap into stranger associative waters. Near where a neck and head should lie, the glowing pale orange of the sideways figure darkens toward shades of dried blood. This rusty magenta blob looks something the bulk of a large bovine mask – a Minotaur, or a medieval helmet, and sprouts looping flourishes – tentacles maybe. Raina’s sudden, sanguine Rorschach-test shifts the painting from a plane of suggestive abstraction directly into a more ancient mythological realm. At the same time, it feels close to the present moment, like a shattered cup.
Kaveri Raina is presently based in Brooklyn, NY; this show is her debut in Cleveland. Born in New Delhi, India, she emigrated to the US twenty years ago. Raina earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Maryland Institute College of Art and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and studied at the Skowhegan School in Maine. She has been included in numerous shows in Europe and in this country, receiving solo exhibits in New York and Chicago.
Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jónsson is a long-time Cleveland resident. Originally from Iceland, she earned an MFA at Kent State University and has exhibited extensively in northern Ohio, New York and Reykjavik since the 1990s. Her unusual technique of weaving with dyed silk thread employs methods found in several Eastern and Near Eastern traditional cultures. Adapted to a large-scale loom and re-contextualized, her often quite mysterious images converse in unusual ways with contemporary scientific imaging. Like most of her past works, big and small, the mid-size compositions at Abattoir are ultimately based on photographs of landscapes or details of the Icelandic landscape – rocks, fissures – although her images are rarely intended to be panoramas, or even literal depictions. They deal with the intimate experience of the landscape, the ways that rough and smooth, cold and heat leave their traces, either in practical terms as recorded information, or on the spirit. “Lichen #5” and “Lichen #6” (from 2016), are each about 30 inches square, and they are in fact studies of lichens, found somewhere in the northern mountains. Jónsson’s renditions here, however, appear warm, as if reproducing thermal imaging through some geophysical or medical device, outlining submerged phenomena. From a macro perspective they also resemble maps – archipelagos and continents of reddish and orange dye, awash in a silken sea. When considered as a soaking/staining method Jónsson’s work is strikingly in tune with her younger co-exhibitor at Abattoir. In the total of nineteen paintings and drawings included in this deceptively modest joint exhibit the two artists share a concern with the absorbency and resistance of the physical world in relation to the human mind and body, exploring ways the environment and sensation become internalized, or are resisted. They’re also about the impact, the imprint that is the afterlife of experience. For Jónsson, whose works are notably minimalist in their aesthetic, artistic process is responsive and notational in about equal parts, fugue-like in the arcs and trails it discovers, trekking across a landscape underwritten (like her volcanic island) by fire. For Raina, a search for presence and the sudden shock of encounter often have pride of place in her remarkable back-to-front techniques and compositions.
Abattoir, at 3619 Walton Ave in Ohio City on Cleveland’s West side, is open Thursday-Saturday, noon – 6 pm, and by appointment to small groups and individuals. Their next show opening 8/1/2020 will be another two person exhibit, featuring new work by Shawn Powell and Lauren Yaeger.