Stephen Wirtz Gallery presents Winds Ground Hollow, an exhibition of new work by Kathryn Spence.
The centerpiece of Winds Ground Hollow is a new variation on Spence’s modular, tour-de-force sculpture “Short sharp notes, a long whistled trill on one pitch, clear phrases.” Constantly evolving since its introduction in 2009, this is the third incarnation of a truly epic work. Previous incarnations have been exhibited in solo exhibitions at Mills College, Oakland, CA, and The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art in Ridgefield, CT. Spence has used each exhibition as an opportunity to reconsider components and arrangement to address different settings, emphasizing the organic nature of her work in harmony with its surrounding environment.
Throughout Spence’s career, her art has continually addressed the complex relationships that exist between the constructed and the natural, the cognitive and the organic. “Short sharp notes…” moves this ongoing investigation forward by suggesting a physical structure for cognitive processes, constructing environments that mimic organic environments. Wood boxes of varying lengths, heights and modularity resemble cityscapes or excavated ruins that provide homes and places of uneasy rest for fauna and flora—owls, other birds and forms of wildlife—made from mud and paper, discarded textiles, and bound texts that have outlived their usefulness, all displayed in the larger constructed environment of an exhibition space. What results is akin to a veristic nesting doll of environment, occupation, and refuge, a monument as well to the spaces and processes of the mind, addressing the unfathomable access to information afforded by contemporary culture, particularly focused on the space that exists between perception and knowing, and the inevitable temporal discard that comes with evermore rapid development and deepening incursions by the civilized world into the natural world.
A dedicated and avid birder, Spence is able to identify particular species from places of great distance and in fleeting moments. She likens this kind of keen looking to the experience of art, in that we approach an image or an object, make a determination of its physical presence and dimensionality, and connect cognitively to the experience of recognition. Monica Ramirez-Montagut, curator of Spence’s solo exhibition “Dirty and Clean” at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art writes in the exhibition catalogue, “Spence excels at straddling the worlds of figuration and abstraction. In our appreciation of her work we are forced to go back and forth between the two, and so we halt one type of perception in order to give in to another.”
Also included in the exhibition are light, three-dimensional works that resemble butterflies made from magazine scraps and meticulously-rendered colored pencil drawings. These fragile objects made from ephemeral materials are arranged on large sheets of paper, expansive places of whiteness suggesting an absence of environment, or the vastness of space and sky.
Some species of wildlife are adept at adapting to the changing nature of constructed environments encroaching on natural habitats. In essence, Spence creates a physical guide to this adaptability—the mutable processes of the mind, of nature, of art, of recognition and identification, and the ways all of these connect. With this possibility open, the space that exists between things becomes paramount, and questions arise about what we think we see and what we think we know, and what is real and what it is becoming. This space, between discovery and recognition, is Spence’s true terrain, a more interesting, activated place charged with uncertainty. Her task is not to build a bridge between the two, but to show how they are firmly but flexibly intertwined.
KATHRYN SPENCE received a BFA from the University of Colorado, Boulder, and an MFA from Mills College, Oakland, CA. Her work is represented in numerous museum collections including SFMOMA, the de Young Museum, the Oakland Museum of California, and the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Birmingham Museum of Art, among others. In 2008, Spence was awarded the The Fleishhacker Foundation Fellowship, and in 2005, received the Anonymous Was A Woman foundation award. Spence was selected for the 48th Corcoran Biennial
exhibition in 2005. Solo exhibitions of her work have been presented at the Kemper Museum, Kansas City, MO, and the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, Mills College Art Museum, Oakland, CA and most recently the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT.