In “The Edge of Things” (on view through March 3, 2023), the understated work of Roger Ackling (1947–2014) sits gently within the architectural spaces of Annely Juda Fine Art. Each individual sculpture has something to say about itself, about its relationship with its near companions, and about the surrounding space. There is a quiet confidence about these objects that seems to invite dialogue—perhaps because, as Ackling once explained, the work is “made by a human being, so it’s vulnerable and has that approachability.”
Ackling transformed collections of flotsam and jetsam and found or broken wooden objects by burning lines into the wood using sunlight focused through a magnifying glass. He sometimes did this on site where he found the object. The thickness or fineness of the line depended on geography and the season: the closer the sun to the Earth (in summer or nearer to the equator), the thicker the lines. Through what Ackling described as a kind of cauterizing or sealing of their surfaces, discarded or damaged wooden objects gained new life. Sun-scorched lines, as well as diamonds and other shapes, combined with added materials such as nails and mapping pins to create new objects ready to stand on the floor, sit on a shelf, or hang directly on the wall.
Ian Parker, the exhibition curator, selected and placed the works in the same way that he had, in the past, done with Ackling. This was not a case of restricting curatorial creative play, but of honoring the artist’s sensibility. Object selection, grouping, and positioning emerged over the course of several days, resulting in a show that is as much about Ackling’s personal approach to exhibition-making as it is about anything else. Works are hung, rested, or balanced. They are grouped and gathered, or sit alone. Their positions, the gaps and spaces between, are important, too: some works emphasize a corner, while others accentuate the flatness of the wall. And then there are the shadows, which gesture to lost histories. Often there are no clues to decipher an object’s original identity or purpose. Sometime identifications can be made based on visual clues that hint at a history, or through stories that emerged long after the object’s making—an old port box given to Ackling by his brother-in-law, since scorched and marked; an old tool handle given by someone else, with a history stretching across generations.
What does any of this mean? On the occasion of a previous exhibition at Annely Juda, in 1998, Ackling explained that the works don’t stand for anything. Rather, he said they stood beside him. It is hard to know precisely what he meant, but perhaps it was a way of saying that the works expanded and enriched his place in, and understanding of, the world. That is certainly what they do for anyone who stands in front of them. The longer you look, the more you find.