“Supraliminal Space”: An Online Group Exhibition on view at TussleProjects by Jonathan Goodman, New York, July 2020
Curated by Laura Horne, founder/director of Tussle Magazine/Projects, “Supraliminal Space” is a six-person show of mostly Canadian women, many from the Toronto area (some have ties to New York City). The title of the show is based on a book of meta-psychological thinking, written in the first decade of the 20th century, in which a space outside the one we know is posited. Although the language of the works and their justification may seem to readers philosophical, the writing indicates mystical belief: the existence of an experience and site beyond everyday life. The six women in the show thus address not only the reality of supraliminal experience but also the wish for events moving past an everyday, reality-based world. The word “liminal” means boundary or threshold, and so the title indicates a place where the artists have moved beyond constraints, toward a site of mystical or visionary awareness.
The efforts shown by the women working under this aegis are remarkably different. Janieta Eyre is a British-born photographer living in Toronto; she has contributed a long short story about everyday life in her city: going to the psychiatrist, shopping for food, etc. But while undertaking these mundane activities, at the same time she is thinking about her boyfriend, a young lama from Tibet. As a figure, the lama stands for an intuitive insight that sheds light on events outside normal life. This does not stop the narrator in the story from her real-life concerns, but it does indicate a way out of the maze we have constructed for ourselves with materialism, its focus on things. The lama is a cypher, occasioning unusual love in a time when such love is lacking. While the story offers no permanent answer to the mysteries, or their lack, in contemporary Western life, it does point out an alternative to our limited conception of the real.
Canadian artist Sherri Hay, who splits her time between Toronto and New York, is offering a strange bronze hybrid, in which long phallus hangs from a two-column structure whose poles are covered in leaves. Untitled, made in 2019, the sculpture might easily be understood as a fertility object, in which the realism of the phallus contrasts with the more decorative, metaphorical use of the green leaves covering the two thin columns. What are we to make of this? The two imageries allude to procreative rites, human and natural, that are being merged in the sculpture. It is startling to see a full-length male appendage draped in apparent isolation, it's only frame the equally phallic, erect poles that are covered in thin greenery. One supposes that the work demonstrates feelings about procreation, in which human eroticism is supported by natural growth. Thus, the sculpture aligns eros with nature--surely, not for the first time. It is impossible, given the elements at hand, not to see this powerful fertility sculpture acting symbolically in favor of biological forces like desire.
Amanda Konishi, from Anaheim, California, and educated at the School of Visual Arts, New York, makes decorated eggs in the Polish tradition, in which the painted egg is devoted to fertility or to developing relations between the maker of the egg and the person receiving it. In Konishi’s case, the artist paints extraordinarily beautiful, usually dark-brown abstract patterns on the eggs, whose existence becomes a cultural as well as a biological statement, in which the eggs are linked to fecundity and future generations--to a world as yet unknown. The eggshells may well be unusually fragile, but, even so, they put a state that moves beyond their physical state, one metamorphic in its implications, simply by being the containers of the next generation. But the subtle decorations of the eggs also indicate the power of culture to sustain and even enhance the unleashed creative force of the egg. Konishi’s delicate treatment of the surface of the egg indicates a high artistic skill, as well as a feeling for the symbolic properties of the vehicle she is working with. This means that the artist is given both to technical appreciation, as informed by her decorative abilities, and a larger point of view, in which the symbolism of the egg, the container of a future we do not know, is given credence, thus evading the terms of everyday life.
Christy Langer, a Canadian artist now living and working in Berlin, makes ceramic, miniature versions of mountain ranges that might well reference the ranges that her birth country is so famous for. The ranges, only a few inches in size, are a dark gray/brown and maintain a monumental presence despite their diminutive presence. Whenever an artist takes on the encapsulation of nature, especially from a three-dimensional perspective, it becomes clear that there is an attempt on his or her part to render a reality larger than life. This is true of Langer’s beautifully made work, its rising planes and decorative striations. The idea of a supraliminal reality is generally embodied in the experience of mountains, whose forbidding heights and difficult accessibility make them exemplars of the reality that this show is attempting to portray (this is hard to do, given that the reality alluded to exists outside the realm of words or images). Langer’s work is beautiful and is reminding us of a time when nature stood in full grandeur, without being slowly eroded by human encroachment. In fact, nature may be the door to our only accurate knowledge of a supraliminal space, in the sense that its beauty can be utterly inhuman, without characteristics linking our perception to the reality we see.
Olivia Lori is a Canadian artist based in Windsor, Ontario. She received an MFA degree from Goldsmiths College in London in 2010. Working with fables, she fashions small, intensely decorated, crowded environments, inhabited by cloth dolls. She has a cloth frog sitting on a striped pillow, in an ornate installation that is supported by an equally ornate, short written description of how the frog spends its time. This work seems to come out of Edwardian children’s narratives, in which animals talk and reason with the emotional insights of small youths. It is a reality that can be said to oppose the reality of reasonable adults, who have small time for extended periods of fabulistic thinking. Lori’s work is particularly interesting if we start to think of a child’s reality as a refutation of the imaginative limits that usually confine us. Perhaps the lack of cause and effect in this work is a way of suggesting the supraliminal space that the exhibition is taken up with. Like most of the work in the show, the art suggests things and does not posit directly the reality of another world. But suggestion is always stronger than flat-out statement.
From Guelph, Canada, working on a doctorate from York University, also in Canada, Jenn E. Norton creates short videos and kinetic sculpture celebrating nature and the first women to be involved with space projects in America. Her short film, beautiful to the point of being exquisitely inspiring, involves flowers and small sprigs of flowers coming together in a single space. She creates complicated works, narrative and abstract, that display an imagery able to be re-seen in a different manner when viewers use an electronic device--a mixture of art and technology for present-day cultural experience. The works celebrate one woman’s undocumented efforts in the development of the first American space explorations including a representation of the first two women to walk in space. What could be further from realism’s norms than such an event? Norton is making art that has its roots in historical events, as well as the timeless beauty of nature. But in both cases, the inspired history of man’s involvement in space, in a realm far from our own, and the exquisite attractiveness of nature, as seen in Norton’s short video, can be seen as alternatives to everyday life. Again, Norton may not have deliberately set out to advance a knowledge in contradistinction to the way we experience usual life, but the possibility is there.
What can be said about the six artists’ attempts to portray a supraliminal space? They clearly care about not only the art that they make, but also the implications that stem from the otherworldly aspects of their creativity. Theirs is a mysticism made real--at least for the moment, before we return to the life we know and mostly believe in. Yet the persistence of efforts in which unreal, imaginative notions of experience are treated as indications of a life beyond this one shows just how attractive--and perhaps how genuine!--extrasensory realities impinge on life even if it is very hard to imagine something different from what we know. The mystical, an intuitive regard for another way of seeing, and the visionary, an active perception that humanizes the spiritual, are closely related in their willingness to suspend their disbelief--in favor of ideas and images and events that cannot be proven, even if our intuition declares them actual. The work gathered in this online show, of unusual quality, bears witness to ways of thinking and seeing we have mostly forgotten. This is a profound mistake. In their own way, these six women artists--and it is telling that all six are female--are establishing a beachfront from which to launch perceptions that touch a different imagination: one in which the supernatural cannot be dismissed. I am not arguing for an armchair otherworldliness in the midst of New York, where I write, or in the urban confines of Toronto, but rather for a possibility that tantalizes us no matter where we live. Good art will always intimate realities in addition to the ones in which convention takes confidence; it is sure to be true that these other points of view will continue to inspire artists like the ones who have done so well here, in their suggestions of unreal, or hyperreal, truths.