Opening Saturday, Sept 21st 5-9pm
It wasn’t the first time I saw Anissa’s work, but every time I think of Anissa the image that comes to mind is a piece of hers I saw at Lyles and King in a show called “Low.” The tagline of the press release was What is an object in the age of the image? Her piece, Gypsy Janus (2011), was an inset Aquaresin mask in the wall that confused the eye as it perceptually flipped from a positive to a negative and back again. The idea of Janus, the two-headed God of passageways, haunted the whole room. Anissa’s piece turned a show of mostly 3-D rendered-machine-made sculptures into a play whose fourth wall was being broken from the back—by a ghost faced relief (life-sized, like a postage stamp relational to the gallery walls). If I can mix ancient Greek and Roman references; Anissa’s Gypsy Janus became the Hades of Hades—a quaking force of the room.
To quote Hito Steyerl paraphrasing Allan Kaprow “[life] in a gallery is like fucking in a cemetery. We could add that things become even worse as the gallery spills back into life: as the gallery/Cemetary invades life, one begins to feel unable to fuck anywhere else.” I don’t know so much about the “fucking in” part of this analogy but placing cemeteries and galleries on parallel tracks seem right, here, and the idea that there is a death from within the gallery that you can carry back home with you sounds less bawdy when an artist acknowledges the end and harnesses it—this requires seeing its destructive and generative symbolic power–one of the things Anissa does so exceedingly well.
Even at the Aldrich in her solo show Junk Kaleidoscope in early 2018—Anissa’s work leaped out of the gallery/grave and into the hyperreal, Baudrillard’s deep fiction/extreme truth space where our imaginations are severed from signs or referents. No mass grave here, nor Disneyland, nor the parking lot outside it—all relationships to the known hover. There is this “foundness” in her sculptures like memento mori, and that unlimited tether between the sculpture and the photograph—especially when they’re both vernacular. It’s not “found object art” though, not at all, each project (and I’m still thinking about Junk Kaleidoscope and the multi-colored-corn-cob-covered Connecticut Wreath which hung over a very real-looking fireplace) turns someone else’s memories into new invented-memories, which, in turn, opens-up a deeply imaginative space to the viewer. A somewhat simple proposition switches the question from Who were they? To Who are they?
Anissa knows her crafts—they are idiosyncratic and honed—the labor implicit, hidden, temporal. She understands her objects the way you might take apart a radio to see how it turns. They’re scoured from the county fair, local anthropological museums, tourist attractions, and eBay, each with their own punctum. A Christmas decoration or a retired lawn ornament might work double/triple/quadruple duty. And the question of Who Are They? (or Who did they belong to?) changes through Anissa’s knowing of them, ontologically, tactilely—their slippery iconographies transformed through touch and time.
Anissa excavates particular American past-times embalmed with nostalgia, times when objects carried nationalistic optimism. Baudrillard describes the nineteen-fifties in America as having an ecstasy of power—in his calculations of the era; even toys were infused with moxie. This picturesque harkening back to a better time is recycled in perpetuity here in the Berkshires. Norman Rockwell, Tanglewood, well-done flank steaks served on silver platters at the Red Lion Inn. Anissa’s re-making of objects reminds me of these fictions. There is something Hitchcockian in her objects—they’re all Judy trying to become Madeleine or vice versa, or they’re all simultaneously marked by death, already dead and trying to be reborn. They serve as a reminder of what’s lost, leftover, yet they remain in the fantasy of our everyday.
During our conversations about this show, Anissa told me how she and her sister would sneak into her Grandmother’s attic to play with a Remco Showboat, a toy theater set where you could put on various productions like Cinderella, The Wizard of Oz, and Heidi, in miniature. In preparation for this show, Anissa had tracked down the original “game” a pink plastic-cast object about the size of a microwave. One of the toy’s accessories inspired sculpture in Three-leaf Clover, a two by six, painted with red and white stripes, with the printed text ‘Pinocchio / Act 2 / Scene 3 / Center.’ As if pulled directly from the showboat, between takes, this object turns our shed into a set, all the works in the show become interchangeable set pieces, more characters than props.
The inseams of two pairs of pants bear an embroidered mistranslation from the 1999 film Magnolia’s movie poster: “People look up rain comes down.” The phrase in the place where someone might have stitched their name into old-fashioned trousers; maybe an extra in a movie from a locker room scene--street-beat cops, at the end of an overnight shift, inside a police station. And again, there is this flicker, real objects, imagined space, imagined space, tangible objects. On one wall, the woman in the movie poster is herself, an object, like a Janus mask, or a Judy as Madeleine. On another wall only fragments, a lock of her blonde hair, a gold-leafed stroopwafel box, a hidden glass bulb. Blue gels on the windows lock the space in eternal twilight, and space itself feels at once thoroughly investigated, and entirely devoured by the confused simulacra of the objects therein.