Understanding THE past/PRESENT

By Mira Dayal
One of the most challenging tasks an artist takes on is that of sparking interest in a work’s relation to the body without referencing the body. In sculpture this is especially vital as three-dimensional, upright structures inherently translate into bodily forms. Kathleen Schneider in her past/PRESENT installation at A.I.R. Gallery confronted this challenge with works that negotiate gravity, create textures, invite you to touch their forms and ultimately let you experience their space.
On Edge, 2015, paper pulp, watercolor, steel, found stone, 62x13x9.5"

On Edge, 2015, paper pulp, watercolor, steel, found stone, 62x13x9.5″

Still Life: Small Step and Large Step is the first piece viewers encounter as they enter the gallery space. At first it seems as though the installation is incomplete; two ladders have been left by the wall. Step closer and you find that the ladders have in fact been enrobed in green velvet, carefully hand-stitched to conform to the corners of each step (the artist would call this “finding form through working”). The sensation of velvet, sensory and luxurious, is combined with–or perhaps combats–the utilitarian feel of cold steel and dust. These ladders are “intended to be touched,” eliciting a sense of desire while confronting the stipulation that art objects be separate from the realm of physical experience. Beyond physical experience, Kathleen says, these works reference personal experience, so that each spectator’s associations with the work are varied.
Schneider_Kathleen-past-PRESENT Installationview1

Past/PRESENT installation view

Still Life: Small Step and Large Step (detail), 1997-2015, found ladders, velvet, thread, steel, 45x13x38" and 55x13x38"

Still Life: Small Step and Large Step (detail), 1997-2015, found ladders, velvet, thread, steel, 45x13x38″ and 55x13x38″

This interest in personal experience is also conveyed through the artist’s use of doubles. Imprint:Handstand, for example, does more than reference its creation and ask you to feel its space; the “marble pillows” also reference symmetry and change. Working with doubles is a way of navigating the dichotomies between expectations and realities, exteriors and interiors of identity.
Imprint: Handstand, 1995-2015, Bath stone, 20x18x6.5"

Imprint: Handstand, 1995-2015, Bath stone, 20x18x6.5″

The differences between Kathleen’s doubles may only be observed through close inspection, or through exposure to light and shadow. The artist’s own identity (“I’m a Gemini… I think about that a lot”) relates to this division, and her work is about the conversation between discrete parts. This conversation allows for a move beyond dichotomies toward fluidity, unraveling, and suspension. While the “double” in works such as Silver Screenand On Edge is simply the object’s shadow, there is intentionality behind their “agitated outlines,” which change with light and with re-installation in new spaces. This implicit change allows for an extension of looking over time and a sense that the art here is not only the object but also its space and presence.
Schneider_Kathleen-past-PRESENT Installationview2

Past/PRESENT installation view

Perhaps the most telling part of our interview happened as two visitors left the gallery space; they asked, with a combination of hesitation and excitement, “Are we allowed to touch?”
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