Ulla von Brandenburg, Two Times Seven, 2019. Bleached fabrics, ropes, ladder, wooden benches, fishing rods, super 16mm to HD video, color, and sound (10 min.), 14 x 28 x 37 ft. Photo: Alex Marks

“Hinge Pictures: Eight Women Artists Occupy the Third Dimension”

New Orleans

Contemporary Arts Center

“Hinge Pictures: Eight Women Artists Occupy the Third Dimension” took its starting point from a few lines in Duchamp’s La Boîte Verte (The Green Box)—the companion piece to his Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even otherwise known as The Large Glass—published in 1934: “Perhaps make / a hinge picture. / (folding yardsticks, book…) / develop / the principle of the hinge / in the displacements / 1st in the plane 2nd in space.” The exhibition, however, moved from established traditions in the canon of modern art and its adhesion to Duchamp’s “social restraint” and “formal liberation” to engage in a reversal by investigating the relationship between formalism and the human body. The works in “Hinge Pictures” were both intimate and boundless, vulnerable yet unfurling in space. Color palettes were tested, space was inhabited in different ways, and viewer perception refracted literally, metaphysically, and aurally. The underlying goal of “Hinge Pictures” was to unhinge a moment in time and space, allowing the unheard voices of women artists to emerge. As curator Andrea Andersson suggests in her catalogue introduction: “Staging a performance of material history, spatial occupation, and social positioning, ‘Hinge Pictures’ resuscitates abstract Modernist vocabularies marked by patriarchal and colonial histories, for use in a new feminist formalism.”

Sarah Crowner’s work is influenced by her early career in ceramics. As she worked with her hands, shaping forms in clay, she began to reconsider her painting practice, pushing it into space and transcending dimensions. Platform (Hinge Pictures) (2019), her contribution to the exhibition, became a stage, a floor, and a work of art. Viewers traversed the multi-part work while experiencing the show. Crowner’s subtle yet strong works are almost always site-specific, which allows them to evolve over time and within changing political climates. By engaging with gallery space, they contribute to the conversation surrounding the normative systems that still plague art institutions.

Ulla von Brandenburg, who uses film, found objects, music, paintings, drawings, and live performances, finds significance in the carnivalesque, most noticeably in props, costuming, and staging strategies that invite viewer participation. Here, two separate works combined to form a single new installation: Two Times Seven (2019), a multi-room, large-scale arrangement of cascading lengths of drapery, which created a spatial and conceptual context for her 16mm film C, Ü, I, T, H, E, A, K, O, G, N B, D, F, R, M, P, L (2017).

Viewers entered von Brandenburg’s installation through a long hallway veiled by draped fabric in vibrant hues of red, pink, purple, and white. Walking around and under the folds—luminous, long, and luxurious—resulted in a physically palpable sense of space. Cords fell perfectly into place, while ladders stood by, ready to be climbed to adjust, remove, and change the atmosphere. A gentle singing voice beckoned, crisscrossing through the armature built within the space. Meanwhile in the film C, Ü, I, T, H, E, A, K, O, G, N B, D, F, R, M, P, L, a procession of patterned fabrics passes across the lens, as a siren-like voice sings, in German, the last verse of Polish poet Wisława Szymborska’s 1962 poem “Rozmowa z kamieniem”(“Conversation with a Stone”). This haunting and arresting dual work pushed the threshold between reality and artifice, crossing boundaries to offer license for women to hold space and question hegemonies.

The work of German artist Claudia Wieser reveals the strong influence of Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee. Her large-scale installations, which draw on the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total work of art,” bring together paintings, drawings, wallpaper, textiles, and ceramics to respond to the physical space of the gallery while commenting on its social and political contexts. Though Wieser takes inspiration from the Gesamtkunstwerk as developed by Richard Wagner, who sought to blur the line between art and reality, she simultaneously “messes” with its aesthetic and vision for communal or collective artworks of the future. As curator Joanna Kleinberg notes, “[Wieser] strives to destabilize her images by denying them, and us, a unitary vantage point.” As a result, the work comes to life, abandoning earlier strictures. This was especially true of Wieser’s installation in “Hinge Pictures.” Viewers could enter Untitled from different vantage points, participating fully with their bodies. The work broke through the norms governing Modernist formalism, from the Bauhaus through Minimalism, by literally refracting the viewer’s self into and onto the work.

By opening a moment in the present by way of Duchamp, “Hinge Pictures” succeeded in expanding the Modernist canon to accept feminist thinking and modes of making. The artists in “Hinge Pictures” have succeeded in destabilizing the assumed certainties of this legacy, by injecting it with social liberation. Rather than relying on our understanding of the hinge as a prescribed narrative, the exhibition created a fourth dimension—one that combines all dimensions, allowing for advanced positions unbounded by the formalist language established by the forefathers of contemporary art.