at Track 16, Los Angeles (through December 12)
Reviewed by Genie Davis
Curated by Georganne Deen, the group show at Track 16 Gallery is perhaps the ultimate exhibition for pandemic times. Titled The Naked Mind, the show features the art of eleven artists including Deen, Liz Young, Eve Wood, Cathy Ward, Samantha Harrison, Christine Wertheim, Laurie Steelink, Rhonda Saboff / Parker Pine, and Lara Allen. The exhibition focuses on the uncovering and understanding of trauma on the human mind. Running through December 12 and available for both virtual viewing on the gallery website and in-person at the Bendix Building, the show also serves as a dazzling tour de force for the artists.
The title comes from writer Terence McKenna’s description of the octopus’s recognizable expression of thoughts and feelings through color and texture as well as movement. Octopi ink is used to conceal these thoughts and feelings, as they would otherwise be laid bare. Humans disguise how they feel through facial control, concealment of all kinds, and by numbing our bodies. Humans conceal not only from others; they also conceal feelings from themselves.
And therein lies the pointed heart of the exhibition: the choices we make to hide and conceal; the ways in which the psyche can be exposed, and trauma explored. Trauma can also be a factor in or element of the creative process, shaping images – or written words – that transforms trauma into a form of self-reflection, as well as a conceptualization that can in-turn help others self-reflect.
Along with the pandemic itself, modern lives are impacted by mental health issues. There is a crisis of mental health care, or rather lack thereof, and an expected societal response that encourages repressing mental health concerns and discussions. Because of this, we are uniquely incapable of coping with trauma except by minimizing it out of shame, or fear or social pressure. Lack of coping skills also leads to addiction issues.
Following McKenna’s belief that artists may be uniquely capable of transcending trauma and rescuing humanity from it, the exhibition begets reflection, both of the self and the society in which we live, which in America is rife with mental health issues from suicide to gun violence. It takes aim at our robustly ignorant cultural history of sweeping these issues under the societal rug. The Naked Mind lifts that rug and confronts the demons that torment us.
Lara Allen’s charcoal on paper works give the viewer a rich panoply of characters to connect with. Each in their own way exudes the aura of an outsider: “King Sad Knees” chews on his hand, knobby knees slightly bent; “Drunken Fool” looks superficially pleased with himself despite his giant cone head. The heroic looking “Super Pawn” is the attractive and empty shill we both loathe and love; “Crooked Bishop” pontificates, a dandling beaver-tail coat comically wagging behind him. Clad in a mix of Greco-Roman empire-era garments and styles from the middle ages to the mid-1800s, the images exude a timeless and universal anxiety, expressive of pain and self-costuming/self-definition/self-concealment that moves through generations.
Georganne Deen’s large-scale, oil and collage on fabric work, “Suicidal fuck happy 17 year old (They can’t take that away from me)” is a major work, combining handwritten words “Why didn’t you tell me it would be this hard?” with a face supported on splayed hands. It is both a cosmic-looking and deeply troubled image, tattooed with symbols and whiskers.
The veiling of human suffering and emotion is expressed in several different artists’ works. Christine Wertheim gives us richly-toned C-prints in which a woman’s face is literally partially concealed by vibrantly colored pieces of felt and other materials, a riff on traditional female veiling. Plastic bags glisten as if strung with stars or sprinkled with painted patterns. Laurie Steelink’s “Parting the Veil,” an archival pigment print, gives us Cousin-It-like silvery hair concealing a face; a tattooed hand is raised, captured in mid-motion, about to part it.
Steelink’s impressive, wall-sized mixed media work evokes something different – a portal of passage. Using found objects and wood as well as acrylic paint, tape, paper and felt, she invites us to step into another’s psyche. On one side of the work is a brightly colored medicine cabinet full of wares, on the other, using tree branches that look like antlers and a deer head with a vivid ruffed-collar, she has created a strangely flowering form, like the inner-workings of a dream. In the middle is a large arched shape, similar to the entrance to a cave, created from black tape. The viewer is beckoned to step inside that entrance, choosing a path by making a selection from the right or left side of the wall.
Working in ink on a variety of mediums, Cathy Ward shapes dreamy abstract shapes that resemble wisps and smoke. There is the swirling, watery substance of delicate ink on clay in “Land of Promise,” and the lush harvest of ink on gold in “Corn Maiden.” These are luminous works traversing the surreal and sensual land of the unconscious mind.
Entirely conscious, subject to the vicissitudes and extremes of daily life and struggling through coping with same, are the subjects of Eve Wood’s paintings. Her almost fanciful work is created from gouache on paper. Among her subjects are a black bird perched on and under a flowery pile of debris titled “In the Shit and Under It;” an unhappy-looking but aggressively-positioned man with splayed legs clad in the titular “A Simple Red Suit.” Her “Incongruous Morning” combines bird and man in one singular piece: a man’s head on a large bird’s golden body, perched on a mountaintop. A man with a nose longer that Pinocchio’s walks along, hand raised as if to protest or stop the indignity as that nose reaches into the clouds in “Disappearing Nose Trick.” Deceptively amusing and accessible, Wood’s work is compelling storytelling.
Samantha Harrison’s expressions are quite different, using the intricate textile quality of embroidery combined with ink in a limited color palette. In her piece, “I begged you to stay but it was her I should’ve asked to remain,” the words “Dear Departed” are highlighted by an elaborately embroidered red “D” for the word departed. Both Victorian sampler and of-the-moment graphic art, her work is a startling dichotomy of mediums and message. Particularly poignant is the pink embroidered lettering of “Forgive” with a distant, pale “Myself.” A black-and- white-striped hand is poised, extended, between the two words. Her “Only the scars you left” is another visually riveting combination of text and texture. “I am afraid, me too,” shapes an embroidered red flower on the left half of the image, on the right tare he words “Forget Myself,” which evokes a riff on the idea of flower petals torn in a game of “loves me, loves me not.” Beneath the words “Forget Myself” is a paler, transfer pencil image of perfect pink leaves.
Working together, Rhonda Saboff and Parker Pine have shaped a wonderful jumble of sculptural work, from the found materials involving an open light socket and an abstract chicken head in “Dumb Cluck” to the evocation of Stone Age art made of mud in “Mud Man” and “Snow Man.” These works look like a play on so-called therapy art, in which a subject might be called upon to use whatever materials presented themselves to express how that subject was feeling.
“Skinning Spilling Soiling Swelling Stuffing” is a large-scale installation piece from Liz Young. The work is suspended from the ceiling of the gallery and spills across the floor. Using animal skins and hides, linen, and poly fill, the figure of a girl in red gloves hangs upside-down from the ceiling, the earth below her littered with the balls she may once have attempted, like many of us, to keep spinning in the air.
If there is only so much we can do to keep afloat, to keep our mental and emotional boats on an even keel, perhaps we ought to recognize the deep waters through which we so often must sail, and their turbulence. The Naked Mind does a fascinating deep dive into those waters, and reveals the ways in which we struggle swim or sink. It’s a perfect show for these pandemic times.
. . .
Featured Image: Georganne Deen’s Divine Being Disguised as a Human (2019)
All images courtesy of Track 16 Gallery, Los Angeles
View The Naked Mind online as individual images or in virtual 360 at Track16.com. The gallery is located at 1206 Maple in DTLA on the 10th floor.
Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist, journalist, and produced screen and television writer based in Los Angeles. Publisher and writer of www.diversionsLA.com, she also writes for a wide range of magazines and newspapers.