KATE TERRY

 

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Evanescence and Geometry
Pascale Beaudet
2002
Diaphanous exhibition catalogue essay, Skol Centre des Arts Actuels

 

 

 

Kate Terry chose her title well. Diaphanous suits her installation perfectly and connotes it well; diaphanous is usually associated with the feminine. It brings to mind a veil lightly draped over a body, leaving to the imagination what lies beneath. The connotation changes however, with a male body, or an ageing female one. The colour of the threads of the installation is also associated with the feminine: this purplish pink is almost too pink. At least for a decisively Post-Minimalist piece.

It is in this gap that the pertinence of the piece resides. It is “off to one side,” simultaneously respecting and departing from Minimalist rules. The artist explains in her writings that she is interested in geometry and in series, in straight, clean lines, in the precision of the form, which correspond with the rules of Minimalism and its fascination with industrial forms. Terry’s two almost intangible drawings in space unfurl along seemingly mathematical graphic curves which become three-dimensional.

Extending from wall to wall, two forms made up of cotton threads break the space up into two parts. Their evanescent structure creates two swaths, one where the lines intersect in the centre, the other more ring-like. Neither shelter nor object, they are perfectly described by the expression “drawing in space” used for Modernist works, whether they be those of David Smith, Alexander Calder or Anthony Caro, where our perception changes according to our view point. The threads are attached to straight-pins strategically placed according to pre-existing architectural data: the two columns, very real in the Skol space, as well as the 2.54 cm variant in the height of the two electrical outlets in the Centre. The artist wanted to direct the gaze and the step toward the small gallery while centering the axis of her piece around the columns, and more particularly, the back one.

In her writings, Terry refers to several Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Robert Irwin, but another name comes to me in this context, that of Eva Hesse. In many of her pieces – I think of, in particular, Metronomic Irregularity, Vinculum, Hang-up and Right after – line, whether structured or unstructured, plays an important role. For Terry, colour plays the same role as the unstructured element does for Hesse. Terry’s geometric precision reveals her “masculine” side, orderly, strict, while colour adds a little “stagger.” Especially since the threads, some at eye level, can incite a sense of danger or at least a fear of disturbing the orderliness of the piece.

The curve, even mathematical, was not really used by the advocates of Minimalism; cubes and acute-angled boxes, rectilinear stacks and modular constructions dominated. But, by digging a little deeper, one discovers that Robert Morris and Robert Smithson did use less rectilinear shapes; LeWitt devoted sections of his drawings to circles; Stella painted on circular or semi-circular shaped canvasses. But it was Eva Hesse who used the curve the most.

In Terry’s work, the feminine element is found where it is least expected, at least in the traditional division of roles. She places emphasis on the momentum of the large scale geometric figures which occupy the gallery without overpowering it. The feminine element is only evident in the details: in the fragility, the horizontality, the colour, the taking into account of the architectural details. A previous occupation of the Skol gallery space, the monumental piece by Stéphane Gilot, attests to this difference: Gilot systematically reproduced the two structural columns, creating a virtual forest. It was an, intensely verticalstatement, very present, that radically changed how the space looked. Terry’s installation is less disruptive to the space: one gradually discovers the piece as well as the space it occupies. Another example is Diane Borsato’s installation at Skol, and the “carpet” of trombones that she shaped and displayed between the two columns. An undeniable horizontality was inherent, a reference to the metal plates of Carl Andre with an ironic choice of materials to which was added the “participatory” aspect of its fabrication: feminine work which underlies the piece and critiques the work of previous artists. In fact, How to Make a Sculpture in an Emergency was the result of the collective work of about sixty people, working together to assemble the paper clips in a 24-hour marathon.

Another allusion links Terry’s work to the feminine: symmography, the arts and craft technique of making images on a panel by stringing threads from nail to nail. Crafts and the hand-made are often associated with the feminine, and usually in a derogatory manner. The combination of symmography and Minimalist “high art” sets in motion Terry’s implicit inquiry.

Beyond references to Minimal Art, Terry’s work is somewhat similar to the experiments of Naum Gabo; I refer in particular to Construction linéaire dans l’espace n°1: Variation (1) , from 1956-1957, where cotton threads are anchored to the surface of a Plexiglas structure, creating folds and twists in the tapered shapes; the geometric forms are easily read on the transparent structure. Terry detaches the lines from the structure and, by doing so, distances herself from the notion of the object; the underlying paradox of the piece, its relative visibility puts it in a tenuous realm. Similarly, another exhibition comes to mind that went beyond this boundary and flirted with the immaterial, that of Joceline Chabot (Skol, 1997), where she created almost imperceptible drawings with pin-pricks in the walls. We can also draw parallels between Terry’s work and Vladimir Tatline’s relief sculptures, more specifically his corner relief of 1915. However, Gabo’s pieces convey a structure with a heart which is not the case with Terry; as for Tatline, he strove for the accumulation of materials in a redefined space, freed from a central axis. The use of space for Tatline, forms linked to mathematics for Gabo, series and large formats of Minimalism: Terry has made good use of the work of artists who preceded her, to simultaneously critique them, pay homage and create her own oeuvre.

Terry’s installation work, as well as her “ready to install” side with her Thread Installation Kits, self-assembly kits made up of threads and pins, refer to the feminine, the domestic and the familiar while, at the same time, it points to the art of the past. Furthermore, it situates itself firmly in the present by rethinking the notion of the object and by taking a fresh look at the processes which lead to the creation of a work of art.

 

Footnotes:

1. As illustrated, for example, in Qu’est-ce que la sculpture moderne? (Paris: Centre Georges Pompidou, 1986), 108.

 

Pascale Beaudet, 2002


Translation: Susan Avon

 

This essay was written for Kate Terry's solo exhibition 'Diaphanous' at Skol Centre Des Arts Actuels, Montreal, Canada, 2 November - 7 December 2002. It was published in a collection of essays for the 2002-2003 season at Skol.

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