text / film

From the invisible to the Spectacular
Georgiana Uhlyarik
Inteference exhibition catalogue essay, Mercer Union



Kate Terry strives for perfection. Meticulously, delicately and with great restraint she skillfully alters gallery spaces and the way viewers experience them. Yet the completed work is, at first, almost invisible.  She works hard to create an installation that reveals itself slowly – transforming imperceptibility into spectacle.

With coloured thread, tautly pulled across the expanse of the gallery, Terry creates a subtle yet large presence: a whole form articulated through the most minimal means.(1) This is her challenge. In her studio she makes a model; she draws; she imagines. In the gallery, Terry starts by hammering pins into the gallery walls. Here, her search for perfection begins. She is adamant that the pins are absolutely evenly spaced and treated identically. She ties a thread to each pin on one wall and stretches it towards its designated pin on the other side.  She ties the end. The threads travel individually across, above and beneath each other.

Ironically, the purity Terry seeks to achieve through her method is inspired and guided by the impurities of the given space. The direction and the shape of the thread structure are dictated by what she calls “the errors in space.”(2) In past installations these have included a slight deviation in the height of two walls, or a bump in the floor, or a particular idiosyncrasy in the interior architecture. Each knot subtly defies uniformity as its individuality is revealed upon close examination. Hundreds of threads elegantly slice through the volume of the gallery.

The result is spectacular. The installation comes into being in space, from its imperceptible edge to its inevitable, dense intersection – a climactic moment – and then returns to near invisibility. It is seductive, sensational and sensuous.  I understand it as the extreme reduction of Bernini's The Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1647-52. It is baroque minimalism.

Kate Terry’s project at Mercer Union is her fifteenth Thread Installation. She cites two dominant inspirations: the rigor of Minimalism and the do-it-yourself craft movement. These might seem meaninglessly incongruous and even potentially nostalgic. However, Terry’s practice is remarkably articulate in manipulating both sets of visual vocabularies to envision and create a renewed respect in both.

If, once again, we are experiencing a mini-revival of High Minimalism(3), it wears an endearing patina, much like fingerprints on a Donald Judd copper box or footprints on a Carl Andre floor piece. Minimalism, it turns out, was never really all that minimal. Its giants are not heroic. On the contrary, they are quite human.

Over nine years ago, I saw Richard Tuttle – the ‘intuitive’ Minimalist – reproduce one of his remarkable Wire Pieces, 1971-74, at the Art Gallery of York University. (4) I found him sitting alone in the middle of the gallery during installation and he talked to me mostly about leaving New York City for New Mexico and then splitting his time between the two. After a while he began to draw on the wall, then stretched a piece of wire, attached it to a small nail and left it dangling. Gravity and the wire’s memory dictated its shape. Faint shadows appeared and the piece was complete.

Kate Terry shares many of Tuttle’s sensibilities, among them an attraction to what he called 'pathetic' materials: cloth, paper, wire. She calls her materials quotidian, utilitarian. The resulting work by both artists defy category, flirt with invisibility and infinity and yet respond to the particular, reimagine space, and beautifully surprise the viewer. More importantly, however, what these two artists share is a deep respect for drawing. They acknowledge the human hand and its capacity to record lived experience and personal memory as fundamental - as the beginning. The hand and its gestures are the ultimate producers of impurity. And what is more impure than human emotion?

“What’s more permanent than the invisible?” (5)

Tuttle’s project in the Wire Pieces was to figure out “how can I keep myself out of my work.” (6) Moving from the hand-held pencil to the wire to the shadow, Tuttle steps out of his work. In her search for perfection, Terry seeks to eliminate herself as well.  Tuttle’s deliberate disappearance is understated, while Terry’s self-erasure is a spectacular flourish in an empty space.

Georgiana Uhlyarik

1. Typically, she has used only one colour and one form, however recently she has experimented with two of each. The installation at Mercer promises to be such an experiment.

2. Conversation with the artist, December 3, 2006.

3. I am thinking of the Tate Modern permanent collection rehang 'Idea and Object' (June 2006) and a number of recent touring retrospectives on Minimalist artists.

4. These pieces are always drawn by the artist each time they are installed. Richard Tuttle: New and Early Works, Art Gallery of York University, September 25 to November 16, 1997. (Curator: Loretta Yarlow)

5. Richard Tuttle quoting Betty Parsons (art:21, http://www.pbs.org/art21/artists/tuttle/clip2.html)

6. Richard Tuttle: Wire Pieces, (Bordeaux: capcMusée d’art contemporain, 1986), p. 37.