Kathryn An­drews reaches art’s tip­ping point, writes stephen short

Prestige (Malaysia) - - Contents - Candy Butch­ers by Kathryn An­drews runs at Simon Lee Gallery un­til Oc­to­ber 26

Kathryn An­drews reaches art’s tip­ping point

On my way to meet Kathryn An­drews inside Simon Lee Gallery, Hong Kong, pre-vernissage, for her in­au­gu­ral Asian solo ex­hi­bi­tion, I all but stum­ble over a steel pipe or tele­scopic tube on the floor, which I hadn’t seen, so dis­tracted was I by the highly tech­ni­cal, ul­tra-glossy con­fec­tions at­tached to the walls. It’s an odd but seem­ingly An­drewsian quirk: ex­pect the un­ex­pected.

An­drews con­jures art that rearts the iconic­ity of Amer­i­cana, repur­pos­ing it as glossy Koon­sian and Kapoo­rian se­duc­tise­ments that si­mul­ta­ne­ously pro­mote, ques­tion and un­der­mine no­tions of se­man­tics, celebrity, sex, pol­i­tics, gen­der, nos­tal­gia et al; a se­ries of seem­ings that be­speak in­stant like­abil­ity but re­sist easy cat­e­gori­sa­tion.

The Alabama-born, Los-An­ge­les-based artist’s main­stream and of­ten­times men­ac­ing mind­set is most of­ten pi­geon­holed as pop meets min­i­mal­ism, but on the ev­i­dence of this show, quirk­ily ti­tled Candy Butch­ers, she’s on the tip­ping point of post-pop. And proud of it.

Post-stum­ble, and pre-in­tro­duc­tion, a work on the back wall de­mands at­ten­tion. It prof­fers a red sin­gle base­ball cap with its brim pointed left, atop a group of dif­fer­ent-coloured caps with rims headed right, sit­ting atop an Amer­i­can foot­ball. The ball is un­marked, and so are the hats. It’s the most branded non-branded piece of work you could find – an art-ver­tise­ment – whose let­ters or tagline don’t ex­ist.

It’s also a wave-ar­ray of vis­ual cul­ture sent out as dec­o­ra­tive, mes­sage-laden state­ment. And con­cerns The Don­ald’s carousel of onion-loaf-coloured Trumpian lead­er­ship and the LGBT move­ment, in the world’s great­est pop-democ­racy. It’s about tol­er­ance, or its lack, on the part of not just Pres­i­dent Trump but the United States of Amer­ica. And not just in the con­text of to­day’s lat­est tweet, but once upon a time and 4ever.

Dec­o­ra­tive. Does An­drews find the term pe­jo­ra­tive in re­la­tion to her work? “I’ve been think­ing a lot re­cently about can the dec­o­ra­tive be po­lit­i­cal. And I would say 99.9 per­cent of dec­o­ra­tive art isn’t, but it’s pos­si­ble. Maybe.” She’s dis­tracted by what looks like a smudge or hand­print on the steel pipe. “I think it de­pends. An artist once said to me, ‘It’s not im­por­tant how my work looks, it’s more im­por­tant what it does.’ And I think my body of work is pur­posely tricky or de­ceiv­ing, and it cer­tainly is dec­o­ra­tive or at least it’s adopt­ing the tropes of dec­o­ra­tive. That was some­thing I was sort of play­ing with – dif­fer­ent aes­thet­ics from dif­fer­ent cul­tural so­cial his­to­ries. These works are look­ing at cer­tain ways of mak­ing images and his­to­ries of mak­ing images, but aren’t dec­o­ra­tive. But I’m not run­ning away from that, or apol­o­gis­ing. It’s just an­other ges­ture within – hope­fully over time – the many ges­tures I’ll make.”

And how pe­jo­ra­tive or stim­u­lat­ing has been Trump’s ef­fect on Amer­i­can artists and their cre­ative process dur­ing the one year, 231 days, 7 hours, 13 min­utes and 28 sec­onds since he’s been in power?

“I think a lot of artists are in de­nial, sort of hop­ing it will go away soon, and that it won’t have the ef­fects that it likely will, so I think some artists are on au­topi­lot,” she ob­serves. “I think oth­ers are at­tempt­ing to di­rectly ad­dress it, and see the sit­u­a­tion en­tire. And then, per­haps there are oth­ers that are turn­ing more to­wards beauty be­cause the sit­u­a­tion is per­haps so de­press­ing that one feels hope­less.” No sooner has she in­ven­to­ried art’s pres­i­den­tial sen­ti­ment in the US than she lasers in on an of­fend­ing mark smudg­ing the steel pipe I’d al­most tripped over. “Sorry. Let me get a cloth. I’ll be right back.” And she is. And she wipes it pris­tine clean in a flash.

An­drews can be very hands-on for one whose work can feel so hands-off and she dis­ports a cal­cu­lat­ing, al­most foren­sic ob­ses­sion with the process of art and its mak­ing. Candy Butch­ers is a term An­drews has ap­pro­pri­ated from the con­fec­tionary world of 1920s Amer­ica with­out en­tirely un­der­stand­ing its gen­e­sis. “Were they slic­ing candy in sheets?” she asks rhetor­i­cally. Cer­tainly she’s butchered her works – images silk-screen-printed on shaped alu­minium sheets – by weld­ing a stain­less-steel mir­ror down the mid­dle of each, in a seam­less sheeny sym­met­ri­cal slaugh­ter that adds sur­pris­ing di­men­sion to each work.

Again though, there’s An­drewsian con­flict; she ex­plains that alu­minium and heavy cus­tom-pol­ished steel make ter­ri­ble bed­fel­lows in mat­ters of art tech­nique and that the two ma­te­ri­als “don’t agree” when com­bined. Hav­ing started the first work with two mir­rors, she found the dis­agree­ment so pro­nounced she ditched the idea. “I also thought sim­plic­ity works bet­ter. It shows the hu­man in­ter­ven­tion,” she says.

An­drews still uses silk-screen­ing – Andy Warhol’s favourite method – as a tech­nique. “Silk screen is a sort of out-of-date tech­nol­ogy now and it’s gone to the way­side in the dig­i­tal era. As a re­sult, peo­ple don’t use silk-screen­ing to make large works, so a lot of peo­ple don’t have skills for such large im­age-mak­ing any more.” Cue An­drews’ favourite ter­ri­tory. “I en­joy that as a prob­lem. Mak­ing the last se­ries we were able to de­velop quite a lot and use skills peo­ple don’t use. I was ref­er­enc­ing works from the ’50s.”

The works at Simon Lee are sur­pris­ingly point-and-shoot given her pre­vi­ous – and much lauded – Black Bars se­ries, in which vis­ual mo­tifs from the ’50s were largely “ob­fus­cated” be­hind bars. Once again, An­drews’ trick­ery and co­nun­drum were man­i­fested in overly de­tailed ti­tles which de­nied al­most all they pur­ported to show: Black Bars: De­je­uner No. 16 (Girl With Chi­nese Take-Out, Gummy Worm, Towel, Lo­tion and Mac­a­roons) be­ing the triumphant mo­ment.

“I had more fun with this se­ries,” says An­drews. “This work is more vis­i­ble … but then it’s not. These works are look­ing to lan­guages that have been de­vel­oped prior to me be­ing an artist. It’s tak­ing the guise of pop art, strongly ref­er­enc­ing tra­di­tion and col­lid­ing that with the mir­rors, which have to do with min­i­mal­ism like Don­ald Judd’s boxes com­ing off the walls, and what hap­pens when you mix these things to­gether. It cre­ates a very beau­ti­ful phe­nomeno­log­i­cal ef­fect, but I’m more in­ter­ested in how this im­age and this sym­bol com­bine, and what hap­pens when they do – and also, just the mak­ing of them. They’re very en­gi­neered; the pro­duc­tion value has more value be­cause it’s made by an artist us­ing tech­niques which are not easy to ac­cess now. The mir­rors we pol­ished in col­lab­o­ra­tion with an aerospace fac­tory that does air­plane parts. So there’s a lot go­ing on.”

An­drews’ favourite piece of writ­ing about her work was by art his­to­rian Chris­tine Styles. “She was talk­ing about my ap­proaches and in­ter­ests be­ing too di­verse to be eas­ily lan­guaged. I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ated what she wrote.” But An­drews dis­agreed. “I think it can be lan­guaged. And I’m wait­ing for the writer to come in that would ac­tu­ally talk about how maybe this body of work was look­ing at a spe­cific his­tory and this body of work was look­ing at an­other his­tory, and that my in­ter­est in fact is be­ing an au­thor that shifts the gaze across his­to­ries, and ad­vo­cat­ing for a po­si­tion about what does it mean to make some­thing when you don’t have at­tach­ment to a po­si­tion.”

That’s not a new ap­proach. “Re­make, re­use, re­assem­ble, re­com­bine – that’s the way to go.” So said Lutz Bacher, an artist who ex­plored ideas of au­then­tic­ity, iconic­ity, the mak­ing of artis­tic celebrity and the na­ture of the cre­ative process it­self. An­drews tips her hat to both Bacher and Elaine Sturte­vant as Amer­i­can artists who’ve em­braced sim­i­lar po­si­tions but hopes she “tries to do it in more sub­tle ways”.

So while she’s pop-y and min­i­mal-y, she’s also be­yond that. “Pop has so much to do with im­age and I’m in­ter­ested in how the op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence im­age dom­i­nates con­tem­po­rary ex­pe­ri­ence in a way that’s very dif­fer­ent from what it’s like to ex­pe­ri­ence ob­jects in their ma­te­rial state. And one as­pect of our time is the pres­ence of images ev­ery­where – our con­sump­tion of them has be­come so nor­malised. So I’m of­fer­ing a more com­plex ex­pe­ri­ence where there’s the pos­si­bil­ity to see the im­age and the pos­si­bil­ity to see ma­te­rial it­self.”

Right on cue, she of­fers a glass of cham­pagne. “It’s post­pop,” we tell her. She runs with the pun. “Yes. It’s a post-pop po­si­tion. I’m post-pop.” An­drews goes on to ex­plain that she’s not sure if pop ex­ists as a sep­a­rate cat­e­gory any more be­cause it’s so ubiq­ui­tous. “But I do of­ten use it, in quotes, or as some­thing that’s al­most nos­tal­gic. But I don’t want to stay in a nos­tal­gic place about pop, but to over­turn it and of­fer an­other way of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing how we ex­ist in the present.” And that tele­scopic tube on the floor? That’s a trip you must take to Simon Lee.

Silk screen is a sort of outof- date tech­nol­ogy now and it’s gone to the way­side in

this dig­i­tal era


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