the faucethe drain breach\ a new /ife
August 6 - 29, 2021
Gaa Gallery Provincetown
My work is anti-nature
The four-story mountain
You will not think form, space, line, contour
Just a suggestion of nature gives weight
light and heavy
light like a feather
you get light enough and you levitate
--Agnes Martin, Writings
So “weighty” indeed was such a reductive linking of Agnes Martin’s work to its various natural habitats that an attempt to undo the link to the natural consumes much of the artist’s texts regarding her own work. Throughout Writings, Martin attempts to stake out an “anti-nature” posturing similar to the above, and yet she nevertheless admits through the natural images in lines like these that her work cannot truly negate what it inherits from the world of “mountains” and “feathers.” Rather than negate nature, art instead makes the more humble attempt to produce a force that rebels against, without obliterating, the gravity of this inheritance.
Created in proximity to the sea, Wilder Alison’s recent works on view in the faucethe drain breach\ a new /ife, nevertheless attempt, like the work of Martin, to complicate art’s relation to the “natural.” While many of the works on view elicit in their composition and palette the horizon lines, beaches, ocean, and sky known to all who visit the Outer Cape, such images are rendered oblique by the incisive “slits” that Alison has cut and stitched at 45-degree angles across each painting. Such ruptures not only lead the eye toward the garish intersections of Alison’s otherwise ebullient dyes that take place along the boundaries of these “slits”; but the diagonal stitches themselves begin to assume forms of their own such that the viewer begins to see linguistic characters (S, Z, and so on) where one previously looked for horizons.
Alison’s process begins with dyeing wool fabric, which they fold, dip, submerge, agitate, and soak in heated vats of water and dye. Inherent qualities of the material are foregrounded in each finished work, serving as an incomplete index of the process used to create it: folds of fabric placed atop one another in the vat, ripples of aqueous solution swirling around them, resulting in concentrated areas of pigment that in the end leave behind saturated swaths of color on the wool. While the resultant designs are as appealing as they are jarring, there is a certain embrace of chance involved in this process—one which links the works on view to the legacies of post-60s Conceptual Art from which Alison’s practice has emerged: Process Art, Anti-Form, and Systems Art.
And yet, as alluded to above, there is something quite particularly linguistic about Alison’s wool paintings that deserves further emphasis, given the artist’s longstanding adjacency to queer culture. A closer appreciation of the seams binding together the dyed fabrics just described allows us to see how Alison’s work threads together a link between visuality and language. One needn’t look very far beyond the pseudo-poetry through which the works in question have been titled to glean that this is an artist obsessed by the look, grammar, and feel of language. In the design of these seams, Alison fully admits to having borrowed from the French feminist and writer Monique Wittig’s experimentation in her peculiar 70s novel The Lesbian Body. In the text Wittig uses the sign “j/e” (“je” meaning “I” in French) to indicate the splitness of the human subject— that is, the idea that a person is split off from one’s body by the language(s) through which the consciousnesses we each inhabit are manifested.
But while Wittig used the slash to designate her split French Lesbian subject as j/e (unrenderable in the English I, but proffered as the split m/e and m/y in translation), Alison’s pilfering of that slash in the composition and titling of the wool works has less to do with staking out a new kind of Lesbian representation than exploring visually several of the ways in which the structure of language itself both makes possible and undermines the possibility of any adequate representation for responding to the questions of sexuality and personhood: who am I? what/who do I want? etc. Hence Wilder follows Martin in attempting to represent “nothing”—that is, to reside in a minimum of metaphor. While the notion of the split subject is certainly one notion that is evoked constantly in this body of work, a person would have to be rather mad to argue that the visuality of the faucethe drain breach\ a new /ife operates in the service of representation or figuration. A subtler version of Johns’ flag or Indiana’s LOVE, the zigzagging lines of Wilder’s paintings don’t represent the X’s, I’s, N’s, S’s and other letters permutable by the seams’ design; these lines form said characters. Alison’s aesthetic queerness thus resides in this fundamental paradox: although linguistically alluded to, the split human subjects “on view” in these works are in fact, nowhere to be seen.
Wilder Alison (b. 1986, Burlington, VT) is an interdisciplinary artist and a graduate of the Bard MFA Painting program. Alison has exhibited work with Gordon-Robichaux, Rachel Uffner, CUE Foundation, 247365, Primetime, and Garden Party Arts, among others. Recent solo shows include Slit Subjects at White Columns (New York), $PLIT $UBJECT at Marlboro College (Vermont), and new wools at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery in Provincetown, MA. Alison was a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in 2016-17 and 2018-19, and has also participated in residencies at Triangle France-Astérides, Lighthouse Works, Fire Island Artist Residency, and Lower East Side Printshop. Alison performs in collaboration with psychoanalyst and musician Monroe Street as N0 ST0NES, with recent engagements at SUBLIMATION Projects, H0L0 NYC, CUE Foundation, and LaKAJE in New York. Alison will be a fellow at Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart in 2021.