by Kara Q. Smith
Place, to each of us, means many things. Often times being physically located in a place is very different than feeling a sense of place. Place is as simple as a well-worn wooden stool and a pint of Smithwicks inside a small pub on the west coast of Ireland and as complicated as our universal existence at any moment in the tangled web of time and possibility.
Descend the stairs of Et Al., a small space in the basement of a dry cleaner business in Chinatown, and immediately noticeable is an abstract formation, constructed with two-by-four-like planks, bending around the small room. What was once a simple rectangular white-walled space is now something new. Cybele Lyle’s Untitled (Frames), all works 2014, changes the perspective of the ordinary room, creating a new visual organization, leading our eyes in different directions, shifting our gaze, creating an unfamiliar experience as one enters the space. There is a lightness and familiarity in the structure; the unfinished wood evokes vulnerability and its shape forms an openness that doesn’t feel obstructive, but rather extends an invitation to the viewer to enter this altered gallery landscape.
Cybele Lyle, Untitled (Frames), 2014, Installation view, Wood, 11’w x 8’h x 40’ d; Courtesy the Artist and Et Al. Gallery, San Francisco
The three walls surrounding Untitled (Frames) don a series of prints containing intentionally layered shapes and colors. There are nine in total, each called Untitled (Screens) and assigned a numerical order. All framed and of varying (but not by much) size, these images appear uniform upon first glance. Repeated square forms and layered colors stand out on the surface of each, though, of course, each piece holds a more nuanced scene. Many images blend natural imagery with geometric shapes; others have no recognizable imagery but are a menagerie of sculptural linear forms.
In #2, an image of a large rock near the water, like the shore of northern California, is framed by two connected walls, like the corner of a room, and further framed by two intersecting squares. This rock—let’s say it is one that can be found in the Marin Headlands, one I’ve seen before and spent time sitting on—is no longer that rock. Lyle transforms it into a room, a protected place one can inhabit. When I sat on this rock (or its brother), years ago, I felt like I had a front seat to the world, looking over the Pacific Ocean, into the horizon of the entire world. Washed with ethereality, I decided then that this would always be my place of refuge and clarity, I would move to San Francisco the next summer and I would come here often…yet how hard it is to return. I have to wait for a bus, which may not come, and then ride it across the Golden Gate Bridge, which could take over an hour, depending on traffic, and I must hope I can catch the bus coming back. Where do I find the timetables again? And will it be close to dinner? I get hungry easily. Anyway, it’s a challenge to return to that place decoupled from the stress of transportation and daily existence. But, I can remember that one magic moment, when everything aligned correctly in my mind, though it may never physically manifest in such a way again.
Cybele Lyle, Untitled (Screens 2), 2014, Screenprint, 22” x 30”; Courtesy the Artist and Et Al. Gallery, San Francisco
Lyle seems to capture the essence of such memories by creating a visible architecture around an intangible place. Like entering the gallery space, when looking at these pieces, we find our way into the piece obstructed but welcoming, needing to metaphorically step around our everyday visual vocabulary, through and over to gain footing in the place represented.
Reframing our own experiences, both physical and emotional, helps us learn how to create new navigation systems, ones that help us find our place, or get to, or remake, the places we find ourselves, or the places we may never find ourselves again.
—Kara Q. Smith
[Image on top: Cybele Lyle, Untitled (Screens 9), 2014, Screenprint, 22” x 30”; Courtesy the Artist and Et Al. Gallery, San Francisco]