The Jonathan Edwards Gallery is currently playing host to the works of two of Yale’s very own student-artists, Caroline Tisdale ’18 and Paul Chung ’17. The show is the product of the duo’s time in Iceland over the summer, where they travelled to find unique inspiration for their art in Iceland’s otherworldly landscape. However, a shared Icelandic inspiration is the beginning and ending of any similarities between the two’s works from the trip. As such, the show as a whole functions as a kind of meta show, not just on the actual art itself, but on the ways that similar sources of inspiration can produce results that are almost diametrically opposed to one another. The pieces are individually striking and gorgeous, and they fit together to create a thought-provoking whole.
The very concise opening statement is humble about the actual day-to-day activities of Chung and Tisdale in Iceland, and almost feels like an extended joke. Reading it, I was somewhat reminded of a Tumblr message board, with its fragmentary sentences and low-key slacker vibe. But the actual output on display in the gallery demands more careful consideration than the intro would have one believe. Besides, it is refreshing to see an artistic statement that doesn’t read like a press release and isn’t overly self-reverential. The statement’s one concession to themes or artistic intention is a reference to the exploration of “bodies” and “surfaces,” but it refuses to elaborate, letting the art speak for itself.
The gallery is divided into two halves. On one side is Tisdale’s work, on the other side is Chung’s. It’s an interesting choice given the fact that it squarely announces the two as almost separate shows that happen to come from the same place. The radically different styles almost seem to face off against one another, fighting for supremacy over whose vision of “bodies” and “surfaces,” and even Iceland, is the correct one.
Tisdale’s work represents the more singular vision of the two, and consists of abstract drawings inspired by topographical maps. The drawings themselves are done on somewhat ragged pieces of cloth that look like they had been well-used even before her paints got a crack at them. The first work is a series of numbered, abstract shapes that appear to be ringed by lines that seamlessly blend into the outlines of the figures themselves. The result is a kind of pulsing sensation, lending completely abstract figures a sense of vivacity and life force.
The other two pieces on Tisdale’s side both resemble more traditional topographical maps, with unrecognizable landmasses ringed by lines that alternate between red and blue. The funny thing is that the red and blue lines overlap and supersede one another in an almost random fashion, lending any practical, topographical qualities they possessed almost completely meaningless. Further, the cloths/canvases themselves are not simply left to hang against the wall two-dimensionally, but have actually been strategically crumpled and manipulated to give the art a literal 3-D projection into the space. And yet the topographical lines don’t appear to line up with the actual highs and lows of the surface itself, lending an added level of absurdity to the concept of mapping a surface that the mapmaker has clearly misunderstood on a fundamental level.
If Tisdale’s work is ragged and pulsating with misplaced topographical energy, Chung’s work maintains a sense of pristine calm, at least for the two pieces that serve as end caps to his side of the show. Both are exhibited on shiny poster paper, immaculately carved into perfect squares that reflect the glow from the overhead spotlights. Inside the self-contained boxes, abstract and frequently overlapping shapes sit at rest. The colors too, are bright and almost neon in their intensity. Imagine if someone converted a Wassily Kandinsky into a 3-D film, and then you looked at it with your 3-D glasses off.
But the futuristic etherealness of the two framing pieces gives way to something stranger and harsher within the central work. I don’t necessarily want to spoil the surprise for you by describing exactly what it is, but it takes Chung’s side of the show into a more human, consumerist dimension, that is either joyful or mocking. It is here that his interpretation of bodies and surfaces becomes equally as grounded in real-world objects as Tisdale’s.
The two sides of the gallery are so spectacularly different in every sense, that it’s initially somewhat baffling why the artists decided to exhibit together. And yet the introduction speaks of “bodies” and “surfaces.” The drawings are abstract, making it difficult to assign larger emotions or meanings to them. We are forced to rely on surfaces to dictate our responses. But we do sense, somehow, that there is more going on beneath the immaculate (Chung) or ragged (Tisdale) images on display. We do feel emotions, even though the surfaces we are watching barely relate to anything we interact with in our daily lives. When forced to consider our own responses to the abstract, we must wonder where a surface ends, and where something deeper begins.
A reception for the show will be held this Friday, Nov. 11, at 7 p.m. in the JE Gallery.