Language is the inherent but ultimately partial material of our lived experience. Every traveler knows this, but is reminded afresh when confronted with a dialect beyond her own understanding. In an absence of linguistic comprehension, one’s remaining capacities of sensation and understanding are amplified: the traveler moves through foreign lands composed entirely of sight, sound, and scent in a physicality of knowing made manifest through an incapacity for words.
Seamless Belonging, an exhibition by New Orleans-based artist Teresa Cole, explores this phenomenon through installation projects as well as ongoing contributions to this internationally respected artist’s growing body of work in handmade paper. Cole, a full professor of printmaking in the art department of Tulane University, has for several years made pattern a subject of her sustained visual scrutiny. Her investigations have lead her research around the globe: to South Africa, Belgium, India, and most recently Japan, where the artist explored traditional papermaking techniques at the Awagami Factory.
Seep, Cole’s large-format installation piece, represents not only a culmination of this immersion in a traditional Japanese craft, but explores indigo dye as tool of mark-making and meaning: “My investigation of traditional handicrafts and the impeccable skill in which they are executed exposed me to a grammar of care, expertise, and perfection,” Cole writes. “The repetition of an activity until it is second nature but never taken for granted, until it is expected yet novel each time: a meditation, a prayer and a practice all at once.” Cole’s description of her process could just as easily be applied to the adoption of a new language, a reality that lies at the core of her practice. The patterns, materials, techniques and methods that compose each of her works – in paper, in dye, in ink – function as a visual grammar for the artist, who endlessly recombines her materials to form the utterance of the outsider with the introspection of the solo traveler. “The very task of language,” Barthes tells us, “is to give one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new.”'
These inflections are further developed in Cole’s handmade paper pieces, which draw from her extensive catalogue of collected and manipulated patterns, a language the artist has consistently added to for years. Created at the Dieu Donné papermaking studio in New York City, each work combines pigmented cotton and abaca pulps to extract a unique image from a larger field, crafting an occasion for deep scrutiny and meditation on meaning. The intimacy, transparency and controlled elegance of these works contrasts sharply with the measured intensity of Seep, creating a range of emotional resonances not unlike those of a stranger in a strange land.