A text thread is a string of messages around a particular topic in many digital formats, but in the gallery at IA&A at Hillyer, text is the thread that connects three disparate artists. Newly Selected Artists: Gabrielle Lajoie-Bergeron, Kate Fitzpatrick and Kristin Adair consists of three mini solo exhibitions by artists working in the region, each taking up its own room. In addition to an interest in language, the trio shares a playfulness and experimentation with materials, but each brings a wholly original point of view and every room feels like its own contained viewing experience.
The gallery opens with the bang of Mascha-Le Gros Party by Gabrielle Lajoie-Bergeron, a menacingly decadent installation. Metallic streamers, a tasseled archway, and balloon letters suggest a party in progress or just finished, but a closer look reveals unsettling details. Guns and knife hilts stick out of vases and replicas of Classical sculptures abound, but they’ve been smashed and reduced to body parts, with heads stacked atop each other.
The Classical theme continues in a series of paintings and wall hangings. In one, a debaucherous party scene features people posing in fetish wear, physics-defying sex acts, and, in a scene straight out of Greek mythology, a woman being assaulted by a swan, all going down in front of a backdrop of serious portraits. In another, statues of goddesses or muses hoist up oversize peaches and a deer skull, their faces smeared with clownish makeup.
Messages that could be winking or warning are everywhere: “NEED MORE EVIDENCE” and “GOOD LUCK” bedeck carpets, and a small painting contains the inscription, “I don’t want to be here this is wrong.” There’s a seemingly endless amount of stuff to look at, but the more one looks the less is revealed about this wild shindig. The viewer is left wondering whose party this is, what, exactly, we’re celebrating, and whether there’s anything worth cheering about anyhow.
Kate Fitzpatrick’s There is no anagram for the word anagram keeps the party going with a play on words, in the most literal sense—the artist has toyed with letterforms, breaking them down to unreadable fragments that suggest some alien form of code. The squiggly shapes are just recognizable enough to seem legible, and the viewer struggles to decipher the hidden language, perhaps filling in their own blanks like Mad Libs.
Fitzpatrick weaves these symbols into endless combinations. The layers that the artist builds up with different ink washes, including a ghostly milky white, call to mind the remnants left behind on a blackboard that’s been partially erased. A grid of multiple wood panels shows multiple washes and transparencies of the material, and semi-opaque layers further obscure the script. A set of four panels has lines of script that seem to span across the boundaries of each painting, creating threads that stitch the series together, even as they remain illegible. “Out of Words” looks like a supernova of glyphs radiating across a cluster of boards of various sizes, visualizing the experience of words escaping someone, or perhaps word vomit.
Several of the pieces feature an element of interactivity. “Myriorama Manifestations” is a set of 100 art cards printed with Fitzpatrick’s scripts, and visitors are invited to order them into new arrangements. “Postscript Letter Bank” is a Scrabble-like board with clear plexiglass tiles embellished with the distinctive glyphs, which viewers can use to make patterns and formations. “Magic Tablet” is not touchable, but in use it works as a Jacob’s Ladder toy, with planks that flip over each other. Each block is covered in lines of nonsense script that can be “read” backward or forward, endlessly looping.
Kristin Adair’s Unconditional is similarly inspired by handwriting, anchored by letters the artist’s grandfather wrote to her grandmother while he was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II. The multimedia body of work excavates family history and spans across digital and physical collage, video, and prints, all in conversation with each other.
The collages capture the multilayered nature of past and present colliding. Digital compositions depict the dreamy landscapes taken from the narrative of the letters, and a series of compositions created from archival prints suggests the hints of a bygone era. In these, copies of vintage photos have been cut into strips and woven together, leaving only a faint impression of the original photographs.
Reproductions of a few pages of the grandfather’s letters are blown up and printed on chiffon, taking on the essence of a family flag billowing in the breeze. The film “Darling” turns these written messages into a narration that plays over a montage of family photos along with found and original footage. This creates intriguing combinations like an anecdote about going swimming paired with a family beach photo overlaid with a clip from the cartoon The Little Mermaid. The past and present, as well as political and cultural forces, are intractable from each other.
Newly Selected Artists: Gabrielle Lajoie-Bergeron, Kate Fitzpatrick and Kristin Adair runs to July 31 at IA&A at Hillyer, 9 Hillyer Court NW. athillyer.org. Free.