“Tell me things I won’t mind forgetting,” says a dying woman in Amy Hempel’s story In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried. “Make it useless stuff or skip it,” the woman continues, and her friend, the story’s narrator, tentatively launches into a succession of anecdotes. Tidbits about Bing Crosby and chimpanzees downplay the closeness of death and the women lose themselves in their own witty rapport, dismissing everything weighty in favor of anything paltry.
Amanda Ross-Ho’s second solo show at Cherry and Martin Gallery, unequivocally titled Half of What I Say is Meaningless, attempts something similar: it offers a conglomeration of not-necessarily-relevant non sequiturs, letting objects with inexplicit histories and unstated personal meanings opaquely mingle in the gallery space. Yet the show, nowhere near as precise as its title, is occasionally too opaque, pushing you away instead of inviting you in to connect the dots between disparate objects and images.
Local Search and Seizure, which leans against the left wall, is a tall, framed slab of sheetrock with pegboard holes meticulously drilled into it. A collection photographs and prints—of flowers in vases, nerdy students holding their matching sweaters, and girls dressed in idiosyncratic tea party finery—swell out from the center of the sheetrock, recalling the refrigerator door of an overzealous grandma who wants to make sure each member of her brood gets equal space.
A bright, not-quite geometric quilt hangs next to Local Search and Seizure. It has the words Pregnant Again stitched across its base in satirical yellow and it seems to somehow answer to the tapestry-like images on the neighboring sheetrock, offering another rendition of the ad hoc, refrigerator door style of meaning-making. Although the quilt seemingly announces its message directly and with gusto, the connection a repeat pregnancy has to the loudness of the patchwork is by no means linear.
If Ross-Ho’s exhibition functions as a hodge-podge of internalized rhythms, the net emphasis seems to be on the way the sheetrock, hanging canvas and quilt, found images, and de-contextualized objects call and respond to each other. Half of What I Say invites you to try to decipher the narratives and associations that bring the contents of the show together, even if you know your efforts will ultimately be futile.
Looking up at the ceiling, into the mirrored security dome Ross-Ho has installed, you see yourself amidst the exhibition. “Is this a solipsistic world or can you enter it on your own terms?” Ross-Ho’s work seems to ask. But entering someone else’s world requires having something familiar to draw you in; finding that familiar something is a challenge in the ingrained installation, unless you separate the small individual moments from their context. Maybe this is what Ross-Ho intended anyway.
The best parts of Half of What I Say are those small gems that, like the random anecdotes in Hempel’s story, allow you to momentarily forget about your situation and follow strands unrelated to yourself: the two eager German Shepherds almost seamlessly taped into a photograph of a patio—what are the dogs doing there, why put them somewhere they don’t belong, and why do they pull at your heartstrings so strongly?—or the clever reveal of a roughed up wall with blue lines crayoned across it underneath an otherwise serene image in Peacock (Once Removed). It doesn’t matter which half of what Ross-Ho says is meaningless. All that matters is that you find something to latch on to.
(From top to bottom: Amanda Ross-Ho, Pregnant Again and Again, 2008, Quilt - cotton, linen, nylon, thread, cotton batting - hand-sewn by Gina Ross-Childers, 85 x 75 inches, Courtesy of Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles, Photo Credit Robert Wedemeyer; Amanda Ross-Ho, Tapestry (Eons), 2008, Formica, MDF, enamel paint, 60 x 99 1/2 x 1 5/8 inches, Courtesy of Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles, Photo Credit Robert Wedemeyer; Amanda Ross-Ho, Installation View of the exhibition, HALF OF WHAT I SAY IS MEANINGLESS, at Cherry and Martin, September 20 - November 1, 2008, Photo Credit Robert Wedemeyer)