An Infinite but Invisible Center
What You See Is as Important as What You Think You Might See in New Work by Victoria Haven
by Craig Brownson
(from The Stranger June 27, 2007)
In some ways, it's 2000 again for Victoria Haven. Largely gone are the tangible structures we have come to recognize: mountains, rabbit holes, lightning bolts. Even the more abstract works of the last couple of years have been forms that suggest interaction with the physical world, often with the body. In Iampayingattention, Haven's first solo show in Seattle since winning the Betty Bowen Award and a Stranger Genius Award in 2004, the new works point to the beginnings of a midcareer tension: further movement toward full conceptual abstraction with a simultaneous return to themes explored in her first show at Howard House.
That 2000 show, Borg Drawings: Resistance Is Futile, revealed Haven as a radically reconfigured artist. At the time, having recently returned from London with an MFA from Goldsmiths, she chucked a career making lovely, if unremarkable, landscapes in favor of working with shape and space in an idiomatic, contemporary way. The new drawings and sculpture were often based in a kind of sci-fi aesthetic, a digital-like futurism that was mostly a shift away from traditional structure, organic or otherwise.
Haven has spent the bulk of the past six years working in more generally recognizable and natural forms. For the opening of Howard House's new space in 2004, Haven's Wonderland translated the world in terms of geometric segmentation. Works on paper and sculptures were built using small unitsÑwhole landscapes constructed line by line, figure by figure, until a discernable whole, a kind of natural architecture, was formed. The almost obsessive focus of these works was in the individual geometric gestures, rather than the totality of the figure.
Coming full circle, Haven is now marrying the futurism of this decade's early works with the methods and execution that are easily identifiable in the rest of her catalog. Iampayingattention is a series of works that continue to look ever more closely at the nature of shape, zooming in to focus on line and shape for its own sake. While this formalism is only a portion of Haven's project, it is an important part that acknowledges the means by which the works are executed. By moving closer and closer to the shapes themselves, the whole becomes less transparent. Lost recognizable structure is significant: The images are largely fragments and suggest an image beyond the piece, setting two "images" in play, one seen, one not. There are dashed rays that shoot to the edges of paper, points of intersecting lines that create depth into and through the piece, or color patterns that seem to radiate past the physical boundaries of the paper.
The deftness of execution is vital to the success of these pieces. Haven's dashed lines create an effect she describes as "almost like pulsing." The result is architectures in motion, shapes fluidly shifting between 2-D and 3-D. This is especially evident in Empire: Four structures move from the corners of the page, pushing inward toward a meeting point to create a suggestion of an infinite but invisible center.
There is a topographical quality to pieces like Untitled (Blue) even if the specific form implies artifice. Haven creates friction by mapping the unreal onto thin, fibrous gampi paperÑa skin-like surface that is a reminder of the organic even as the synthetic webs across its surface. The primary point of inquiry lies in the in-between places: between forms that can be described and understood versus forms that are lost. Haven seems to suggest that the distinction can be slippery, that different methods of description can reconfigure perception.
The show's title piece, Iampayingattention is markedly different from anything Haven has made in the past. The plasti-dipped-steel wall sculpture is a response to Bruce Nauman's 1973 print Pay Attention Motherfuckers. The original and response are fully dichotomous. Where Nauman's brazen all-caps print emanates angrily from the paper, Haven's lowercase, cursive sculpture is quiet and earnest. The piece is installed unassumingly seven or eight feet high, pinned about an inch from the wall. There is a shadow cast below it, softly echoing the text.
Because of its distinctness, Iampayingattention threads the show together. Just as each piece has its own internal part-whole relations, each is also an abstract segment of a conceptual and textual whole. There is always more in these works: Whether just out of sight or beyond what we could ever see, there exists the possibility of unexamined, occupied space.
Iampayingattention is a title that, coming from another artist, might sound self-congratulatory by declaring its own relevance. That these works are so intellectually rigorous and stand among Haven's best allows the inference to be stated: This is work we should be paying attention to.