On The Opening Gallery’s Chromocommons
by Joanna Seifter, June 8, 2023
Image: The Callas (Lakis and Aris Ionas), Pee Pee, date unlisted. Embroidered tapestry, 78 ¾ x 13 ¾ in. Image credit: The Opening Gallery.
Björk’s album Medúlla opens with Pleasure Is All Mine, a musical production smörgåsbord replete with crooning, throat singing, beatboxing and a choir. These components, punctuated with pregnant pauses and strategic key changes, gradually mount in tone and urgency, generating a tremendous ecstasy of sound. When a shimmering gong gently disrupts the listeners’ exhilaration, each musical ingredient fades into silence, underscoring the motifs’ coexistence with their surrounding fixings while avoiding the trappings of excess and dissonance.
Pleasure Is All Mine’s resplendent makeup of individually distinct and collectively harmonious elements evokes the Divisionist and Pointillist paintings of Giovanni Segantini and Paul Signac, both of whom utilized numerous yet balanced directional brushstrokes and stipples, intertwining local colors with hidden hues while differentiating them from values. Such brushstrokes emit what Signac dubbed “pure” hues, thereby “maximizing [a painting’s] luminosity,” cultivating lush and deeply immersive environments. These minute marks of pure colors, the Divisionists and Pointillists believed, would encourage the viewer to optically blend them, embodying our conditional, subjective color perceptions in ways a photograph could not.
Like the medulla oblongata connects the brain and spinal cord, mobilizing the body, musicians and artists connect and attune singular elements, forming masterworks with lives of their own. Perhaps Björk reached similar conclusions–Shoplifter, Medúlla’s cover artist (whose unconventional moniker originated from an anglicized mispronunciation of her Icelandic birth name Hrafnhildur Arnardóttir), spins slight vibrant fibers into gradient, momentous sculptures. Historian and curator Dr. Sozita Goudouna also draws this analogy in her exhibition Chromocommons, The Opening Gallery’s dazzling reconfiguration of Divisionist techniques for the twenty-first century.
Shoplifter, The Fathoms, 2023. Synthetic fibers, rubberized metal chain, rope, varying sizes. Image credit: Joanna Seifter.
Conservationist’s tratteggio restoration technique, or the practice of adding “threads of colors” to missing areas of paintings, incorporates Divisionist like brushstrokes that were also unmixed to the naked eye while appearing blended based on their contiguity to complementary or analogous colors. Adapting Brandi’s terminology, each of Shoplifter’s brilliantly variegated Fathoms sculptures, suspended from The Opening Gallery’s ceiling, are composed of literal unmixed color threads. Shoplifter pairs neon chartreuses, fuchsias and lemons with pastel cornflowers, corals, and lavenders, each saturating its corresponding sculpture’s hues. The Fathoms’ furry texture combined with their artificial color palettes and synthetic materials render them simultaneously inviting and intimidating, organic and uncanny. Their proximity in a compact space exaggerates their enormity, enveloping the viewer upon entry and commanding closer examination of their details.
Shoplifter’s scaled-down Capsule and Brainstorm elegantly separate and suspend her threads in sinuous and oblong blown-glass pipes and orbs, their strands morphing into trapped smoke and air bubbles becoming constellations in a distorted sky. Brothers Lakis and Aris Ionas (founders of the Greek arts collaborative The Callas) escalate this concept by molding embroidered threads of color into shapes. One of the Ionas’ hanging tapestries, for instance, features two large, colorful forms–a portioned circle and an isosceles triangle flanked by two smaller triangles–surrounded by miniature shapes evenly dispersed and suspended in a horizontal landscape. The circle parallels a color wheel, an instructional tool that segments hues into primary, secondary, and analogous colors, illustrating their relation to one another. However, the Ionas’ iteration splices analogous hues between complementary colors and occasionally duplicates pigments, effectively reorganizing the color wheel. This, coupled with the tapestry’s juvenile title, Pee Pee, invites a whimsical approach to their art and to color theory, subversively replacing academic conventions with perception and preference-driven intuition.
Tula Plumi, Light in March, 2023. Bamboo, acrylic, light, 18x22x10 cm. Image credit: the artist’s website.
Misha Milovanovich, Noir, 2023. Finnish Baltic Birch plywood and shellac, 44x30.5x18 cm. Image credit: The Opening Gallery
The triangles, emblazoned with stripes, resemble the impression and refractions of prisms, practical applications of the principles demonstrated by a color wheel. When juxtaposed with the prism, the background shapes are diffused color particles, akin to the scale and density of Divisionist brushstrokes. Divisionist painters frequently substituted black with ultramarine blue and burnt umber, pigments dark enough to be construed as values without dulling and distracting from their neighboring colors. The Ionas’ inclusion of black strands, however, intentionally offsets their hues–their tapestry’s inky background imbues its inanimate shapes with joy, producing a pulsating, glowing effect as the viewer itches to piece them together like a game of Tetris.
Leah Singer, The Ruby Drawings, 2023. Rubylith on paper, dimensions unlisted. Image credit: The Opening Gallery
Values merge with color and form in Leah Singer’s Ruby Drawings, a series in which silhouettes of multicolored splayed bodies layer over one another, signifying either individual movements or lively interactions (or possibly both). Her inclusion of pale gradated backgrounds emphasizes the figures’ negative spaces, making their coloration more vivid. While many of the series’ figures are red, yellow and blue, Singer’s juxtaposition of primary colors with black figures allows the bodies to encompass several degrees of opacity–some limbs overlap, others merge, and a few disappear entirely. This technique creates interlocked high-contrast shapes and complex compositions of their own, visualizing psychologist Edgar Rubin’s concept of figure-ground organization, or the process of discerning multiple images across depths of field and values through the same abstractions.
If the Ionas’ and Singer’s use of black enhances their adjacent hues, Misha Milovanovich’s sculpture Noir enhances its counterparts while remaining exceptional in its own right by eliminating color entirely. A series of stacked monochromatic interlocked curvilinear forms, Noir’s silhouette and negative spaces imbue its structure with dynamism, which also stabilizes the exhibition’s potentially overwhelming vibrancy. Tula Plumi’s Light in March lamp stabilizes Noir’s absence of light with scattered threadlike rays escaping from its reedy cylindrical construction, culminating and bursting as splendid beams through its uppermost opening.
In an era of bleak late-phase pandemic minimalism, the Opening Gallery’s proposition of a contemporary Divisionism, one so radiant and enticing it envelops three-dimensional environments, is exciting. Through traditional craftsmanship and contemporary aesthetics, Chromocommons’ entertaining mediation on color embodies the delight and transdisciplinary creativity it inspires.