“Why are there many arts and not just one?” asked the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy. Carol Szymanski undoes Nancy’s distinction by making one art of many. For her, meaning emerges from the adjacency of diverse media and languages.
Her new exhibition, “My Life Is an Index,” comprises a number of distinct types of work that are all nonetheless conceptually interrelated, including painting, photography, inflatable mylar sculpture, neon signs, and silkscreened wall texts, as well as a musical performance that will take place on October 4. They are united by an overlay of systems in which, for instance, the colors of the spectrum are mapped onto the notes of the musical scale and then in turn onto an array of hand gestures and of spoken interjections as expressions of feeling. Also on view will be a digital display of the collected archive of cockshut dummy, the email project based on the categories of Roget’s Thesaurus, which she recently brought to a conclusion after eleven years of work. The cockshut dummy, which will be published later this year in book form in collaboration with Book Works, London, remains a bottomless well of material for Szymanski’s ongoing work. As Rob Colvin recently wrote on hyperallergic.com, Szymanski’s art contests the presupposition that a work must be either “a visual starting point or conclusion of an artist’s intentions.” Instead, her works are points of transfer between different systems of meaning.
“Based in language, bound up in the syntax of human communication, without being reduced to it,” as Colvin remarked, her work “doesn’t represent anything at all, but instead makes lateral moves and jumps across various types of description. And, still, it’s not abstract art.” Writing about Szymanski’s 2012 solo show “Pissin’ Against the Wind, or, Sketches on the Mental Drain of the Dead Banker,” Michael Wilson in Time Out New York spoke of “a poetics of disruption that reflects the chaotic unraveling of the global market.” Szymanski’s art may be elusive—but it is joyfully so, albeit with an ever-present tinge of irony. Wanting to exhibit the idea of “cheerfulness,” she fished from her cockshut dummy archive the words that appear in the gallery as a colorful wall text: Ciao Berlusconi, Libia sta benissimo, non c’e problema!—the last message before his fall from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to his friend the then-Italian Prime Minister.
The musical performance Lost Edge of a Square/Dark Corner/Obscure Corner, based on the artist’s transformation of a poem by Pierre Reverdy and composed by Betsy McClelland, will be performed in the gallery on Sunday, October 4 at 5 pm by the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble under the direction of Jeffrey Gavett. This will be followed by a reading of Barry Schwabsky.