ajna schwörer

Anja Schwörer, Untitled, 2011, bleach on fabric. image courtesy Fourteen30 Contemporary

 The white cube has had its share of theoretical bashing, especially in the ’60s and ’70s when art was heading out of the gallery and into the world…and the world was being hauled into the gallery, dirty shoes (or just dirt) and all. But even as Tom Marioni and I were appreciating the delicious raw walls in the subterranean West Coast space at YU a couple of weeks ago and lamenting that the development of that building would likely mean a lot of drywall white walls hiding all that haggard and patinaed masonry, and I was reflecting on the plans Disjecta had had for the Templeton which would have ruined the wrecked magic of the place that we all loved, I have to say, I love a good white cube.

The world is a visually busy place, particularly in the urban environment where there’s not just texture and form, but message everywhere. And so to me, the white cube, particularly when hung with a sparse elegance, as the recent Ajna Schwörer exhibition at Fourteen30 Contemporary, is a deeply appreciated luxury.

Fourteen30’s beautiful space, the former NAAU on SE Ankeny, was hung with just three of Schwörer’s bleach paintings of modest scale. This provided not just the opportunity but the invitation for extended looking and reflection sans distraction. And these works are worth it. When I first saw them, the absence of color that the bleach created on at least one of the works (they are all untitled) reminded me of the show at the Vestibule of bleach paintings by Alex Felton and Kevin Abell. But Felton and Abell were essentially presenting a record of an action, splashes of bleach on black fabric, the splashes bringing to mind Hans Namuth’s film of Jackson Pollock at work and the kind of bleached t-shirts that were a fashion overlap for punk and metal kids.

Schwörer’s doing something else, something slower, more considered, more compositional. And yet chance comes into play as the bleach is constrained by the batik process, but also finds its own way, often at the edges, where straight lines grow tiny tendrils and tongues. And how many shades can be had from removing a single color? Simplicity births poetic complexity.

“Untitled” (2011) features ghosts of hexagons in burnt peach on a fine weave black cotton as if an angular something had been set down on it again and again, leaving a “ring” as a glass might on an unfinished table. The radial nature of “Untitled” (2009) is one-part Rorschach and one-part Shroud of Turin, suggesting, in all its ambient texture, a kind of alien face. And when the gallery, and maybe the artist as well, use the word “alchemy” to describe what Schwörer’s getting at, it’s here and in “Untitled” (2011) (the other untitled from 2011) that it comes to the fore.

For if “Untitled” (2009) is almost, if you cross your eyes, drawing figure out of the raw denim through its bleaching, the points at which the bleach escapes, licking out in little rivulets from the center edges of “Untitled” (2011) suggest the medium transforming material in spite, as much as because, of the artist. This latter, most elegant “Untitled” (2011), features a folded, grayed ivory “frame” around a black rectangular field as if we were somehow with x-ray vision seeing through to the stretcher bars. What is framed is a field of deepest black, the raw fabric, highlighting presence in absence or potential in the void (see for comparison: Cage’s 4’33”) even as Schwörer’s methods use deletion or the creation of absence to make image of what’s left.

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