Where Mediums Meet:
Sarah Foote at Transpace Gallery
May 7, 2018
Spread neatly on a table near the entrance of the gallery is an array of business cards, show cards, and booklets. A red and blue circle meet to form a Venn Diagram at the center of the minimally ornamented business cards, along with the words “Designer” and “Painter”. Sarah Foote’s practice exists at this intersection—a metaphoric gray space, much like the walls of the gallery itself. The prefix (and show title) “inter” summarizes this between-ness, and appears throughout the space in various states of manipulation, as it is isolated, sliced, rearranged, and re-contextualized.
The most expansive work is an interactive wall installation composed of thirty panels, expanding from a corner of the room in sets of three. The panels are mounted on staggered tracks, and the audience is invited to slide the panels back and forth to form alternate compositions of black, blue, red, and peach. Arranged in a particular order, “INTER” is spelled in large blue lettering, while on a smaller scale, the suffixes, “PERSONAL,” “CHANGE,” “RUPT,” “TWINE,” “SECT,” “FERE,” “LUDE,” “ACT,” “PRET,” and “MEDIATE,” are composed in silver. In this self-reflective exercise, Foote borrows principles of Deconstruction to undermine one of the main tenants of design: the clear distribution of information. As letters are dissected, their status as signifiers is stripped away, leaving behind formalist shapes that speak a visual rather than verbal language, allowing the medium of communication to flourish even as it is interrogated.
A pair of large, dimensional paper collages, collectively titled A Dressing (Old Wounds), adorn the opposite walls. Lines of prose branch and twist around one another in Self-Inflicted, while fractured words cascade down the wall and onto the floor in Arterial. These meticulously pinned works possess a fragile temporality that further undermines sculpture’s historic status as stable and heroic—a quality that Anne Ellegood describes as “un-monumental”. She elaborates, “This rejection of autonomy is also apparent in a turn towards artworks that are composed of constellations of objects—individual forms that are incomplete and incomprehensible on their own and instead rely upon connections between their numerous parts for their meaning.” [i]
Though only legible in fragmented moments, the text itself is confessional in nature (peppered with poetic yearnings for former lovers and lamentations for broken friendships). This effort to obscure content creates a palpable sense of self-consciousness, as Foote navigates the space between the commercialization inherent in design and the expressiveness of “high” art. The former is revealed in the prioritizing of the relationship between audience and artwork. The simultaneously fluid and disjointed paper collages, as well as the kinetic panel installation, are visual and tactile manifestations of our mental processes as we perceive and construct meaning; that is, by internally arranging and rearranging information, symbols, and biases. Through our physical participation, from touching and moving the panels, down to the shifting of light on metallic tape as we move around the space, we are invited to enact bodily these internal phenomena.
From her work’s medium to its content, Foote allows no dichotomy to stand unchallenged. Throughout the exhibition, questions of where meaning is contained, who authors it, and how it is transferred are posed. Is the audience assigning significance when they rearrange the panels, or does the work possess an autonomous meaning beyond this interaction? Is our freedom to compose only a well-orchestrated illusion, leaving us to pace within the parameters established by the artist? Does the impulse to find legibility in letter forms dictate a “correct” composition? If there are answers to these questions, it is difficult to articulate them without borrowing a word from Foote’s shifting panels, which is to say, the answers lie somewhere between two poles.
[i] Anne Ellegood, “Formalism Redefined,” in Contemporary Art:1989 to the Present, ed. Alexander Dumbadze and Suzanne Hudson (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), 91.
This article is funded by the Illinois State University Friends of the Arts.
Maggie Morton is an artist, writer, and poet, who earned her BFA in Painting from Illinois State University in 2016. Morton currently lives and works in Normal, IL. Her writings have been published by Sixty Inches From Center and Catfish Creek.