Exhibition Review: Klea McKenna-Generation
By Adam Ethan Berner
The first time you’re taken to a museum, you’re told “look with your eyes, not with your hands.” While this has undoubtedly saved several priceless works from the destructive combination of hyperactive children and gravity, something is inevitably lost in that distance between the art and the audience. As a medium, photography itself can be particularly susceptible to this problem; the image becomes smooth and glossy, flattened into something to be named and defined by the eye behind the camera.
In her first solo show in New York, Generation, Klea McKenna uses the photogram to overcome the over-controlling distance of the purely visual. The artist uses the medium to create prints of objects by pressing them against a light sensitive surface, recording in intimate detail not just the image’s appearance but its texture as well. McKenna manages to represent the conveyance of tactile information in a visual medium through her photograms.
The photograms render their subjects in incredibly intimate detail; each stitching shines through the silvery imprint, lines and creases transforming from marks to be fixed into something ethereal and beautiful. Even a seemingly tangled scattering of 48 nylon stockings becomes a beautiful composition of fabric, a twisting and flowing set of silvery smoke that beckons the viewer to imagine what is and what could be.
However, what the photogram process does to impart the most meaning in the exhibit is to command the viewer’s attention to each individual stitching of the garment. It reveals the life and labor that took place to create these works in the first place, highlighting the identities of those who had been rendered invisible by the unconscious assumption that objects like these just appear without the labor of actual people.
The art books in the Gitterman gallery, which include collages detailing the cultural history of each garment, are themselves made from the same textured scraps and test strips that make up the art on the walls. By allowing the audience to physically interact with the texture of the artistry and garments themselves, the usual distances between artist, subject, artwork, and observer can now be bridged.
Instead of presenting the objects within the photograms as things to be named and catalogued, McKenna’s work encourages the audience to interact with the textiles as texts that touch back. In the gallery, understanding and enlightenment can only occur through a mutual willingness to press on to and be changed by each other. Each crease, each line, each stitching, and each decoration becomes a testament to the lives of those who made these works, like the creation of a soul now passed onto the viewer.
Generation will be at the Gitterman Gallery until Saturday, November 10th.
Gitterman Gallery, 41 East 57th Street New York, NY 10022. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday.
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