At Angela Meleca Gallery, Seven Artists Explore the Relationship between Word and Image

Aug 12, 2016 9:56PM

Language, whether written or spoken, is a major influence on each of the seven artists featured in “Tongue,” a new group show at Angela Meleca Gallery in Columbus, Ohio.

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak,” wrote the noted critic John Berger, whose ideas also influenced the show. “It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it.”

This larger theme of the relationship between words and images is particularly evident in pieces like Erica Baum’s Not to Wear Stockings (Dog Ear) (2010) and Venice (Dog Ear) (2014), both made from paper covered with printed text. The material looks pulled from the pages of an old book, but the pages are transfigured, cut, and reshaped so that we can only make out certain words and phrases. As viewers, we’re left to puzzle over the fragmented snippets of text, putting together our own sentences, inventing our own startings and endings for ideas that spill off the page.

Text features prominently in other works in the show, too. Some of it is handwritten and legible, as in Robert Buck’s The Letter! The Litter! (“I Love Having a Ribcage’ Paintings / Stitchings, Watercolour, Embroidery Exhibition by Freya, ‘The Courtyard Garden d’Arte’ 424 West 56 St between 9th and 10th Ave New York City March 14 6PM”) (2016), which looks like an invitation to an art exhibition that’s been copied by a child.

In Youmna Chlala’s works, paper looks pulled from a notebook or diary, dotted with colorful sketches and notes. But the paper is crumpled, as if meant for the wastebasket. The viewer strains to read words that are upside down or otherwise obscured, lost in the paper’s messy folds. Only certain phrases—romantic but enigmatic, like “the first dream”—are easily readable.

There’s no text at all, legible or otherwise, in many of the exhibition’s works. But there’s the suggestion of printed media in the material of Ryland Wharton’s minimal Figure 4 (The Alchemists) (2016), a letterpress print mounted on newsprint. Likewise, the long horizontal lines of Ian Ruffino’s Untitled Fiction 1 (2013) are reminiscent of the pages in a book.

The fact that most of the works in “Tongue” only feature text in an abstract way—or not at all—underscores the exhibition’s unifying theme: Words matter, of course, but they don’t explain everything; it’s not words alone that make us feel or experience life. As Berger wrote in Ways of Seeing, “The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”

—Bridget Gleeson

Tongue” is on view at Angela Meleca Gallery, Columbus, Ohio, Jul. 23–Sep. 2, 2016.

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