Conjunctions: Petra Soesemann at Praxis

Petra Soesemann’s Conjunctions, installation view, photo courtesy of Praxis

The subtle patterns and collage-like layers of Petra Soesemann’s textile-based works are like core samples, skimmed or extracted from a not-quite-physical dimension found near the frontiers of memory and human understanding. At the same time, they read as desirable, touchable, and the tension between these qualities lends them a lapidary oscillation – like precious stones seen in a shallow lake. In the variety of her abstract compositions on display in her solo show Conjunctions at Praxis Gallery, the Cleveland Institute of Art professor’s fascination with woven materials also mixes with other preoccupations — sensual, geographical, and astronomical. Soesemann’s familiarity with Moorish architecture comes into play as the imaginative source of the exhibit’s largest installation. Inspired in part by a 2005 artist’s residency in southern Spain, semi-transparent hanging draperies form a floor-to-ceiling moveable complex of temporary arches. Visible from the street through Praxis’ long, high display windows, the staggered rows of pale white arches transform a portion of the gallery, suggesting the intimate outlines of an exotic, yet math-inspired tradition.

In general Soeseman’s images use shimmer and bent or fragmented form to unfold elegant colors from a dimension of self-interrogating flatness, sometimes evoking the missteps and syncopations that save reality from perfection. “Contraction #2” recombines geometrically shaped sections of moiré-rippled satin-ish material, to make a shape that bends vertiginously in the middle, almost as if someone had punched it in the stomach. The artist searches for the far edges of our solid, daily world, where ultimate structures and metaphysical laws wink into view. At times the sleek, post-human fineness of facture and tonal subtlety of these hybrid forms also reads as futuristic, transcribing a vision of otherworldly structures.

Petra Soesemann, Grid Study for Saturn’s Hexagon

Soesemann’s five foot square “Saturn’s Hexagon”, which dominates Praxis’ rear gallery wall, seems wound tightly across cosmic seams, zipping and unzipping space. “Hexagon” and a number of smaller studies called the “Grid Series” displayed nearby are meditations or extrapolations suggested by Hubble Space telescope’s images, showing a perfectly symmetrical six-sided storm located near Saturn’s north pole. First discovered in 1986 and later observed at close hand by the Cassini-Huygens space probe, the natural phenomenon is regarded as one of the most remarkable ongoing formations to be found in our solar system. During the period of Cassini’s observations the storm, which is larger across than Earth’s diameter, shifted in color from a bluish range to a more golden tint, but its dimensions have remained as stable as a figure in a text book. Astrophysicists are still at a loss to fully explain the cause of this enormous atmospheric event, thought to be hundreds of miles deep, but the spectacle is like a vision from a Platonic realm of ideal forms. It’s certainly no wonder Soesemann finds it a perfect fit for her work.

Several smaller framed works which she calls the “Pareidolia” series, made during Soeseman’s residency in 2017 at Lucid Art Foundation in California explore a more idiosyncratic range of associations. She writes, “I took a pile of scraps and churned through them daily. In this process, I rediscovered small hand-dyed silk samples which suggested images.” To appreciate these it helps to put your nose almost up against the glass that protects them and peer into the fragile scenes they seem to sketch. One is titled “Unidentified Flying Object”, and with that guidance the four blurry images butted together to make a four-part grid begin to look like close-up shots of a circular alien craft. Other titles — “Sleepwalkers” (a reference to the great 1959 book “The Sleepwalkers” outlining the history of western cosmology, by Arthur Koestler), “Twin Peaks”, “Man and his Demons” suggest the wide field of associative thinking that lies behind Soesemann’s interests and aesthetic choices.

November 2 – January 20, 2019

Praxis Fiber Studio

15301 Waterloo Road, Cleveland

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