Julie Mehretu

Julie Mehretu on her new work and exhibitions

Julie Mehretu, Invisible Line (collective), 2010-11, ink and acrylic on canvas, 11’ 2/5” x 24’ 9/10”.

For her first exhibition in a New York gallery in over a decade, Julie Mehretu has strategically installed her new paintings to mimic the curatorial approach taken in her current show at White Cube in London, which terminates in the expansive vista of Invisible Line, 2013. This will in effect create a dialogue between the two spaces, pitting in situ experience against a broader, globalized consciousness. “Liminal Squared” is on view at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, from May 11 to June 22 and at White Cube, London, from May 1 to July 7, 2013.

I’VE BEEN RECENTLY thinking a lot about algorithms as a medium (Amy Sillman got me on it). I work with a research assistant who is extremely meticulous in going through every image she can find of particular buildings in different public squares. My latest paintings come out of these images, which are mostly found on the Internet. They have a very different type of information because they’re not just from the news—the source of a lot of earlier work. We instead have to cull through this vast system to find them, personal photos of soldiers that come from Flickr or other such places, often posted directly from the center of the military presence.

Swarming elements coalesce and dissipate in the paintings that include these appropriated spaces, creating a shift in the image as it participates in the evolution of this other form—though it’s not even considered a “form”: I won’t call it that. I won’t give it a body. The architectural renderings rely on a certain wire-framed language. Maybe each work is actually a location in and of itself, a place to ponder experiential pressures.

I used to work with marks that were very small and were much more like little glyphs or characters; they would plot and move and journey through the canvas in very social ways. I think now my marks have become more notational and gestural—smudges that suggest or even register a trace of action, like the imprint of the towel I was using, my fingers, or my palm. It’s as if these marks now function from a place of retreat in order to reconstitute themselves. And that might be how one rebuilds what was once so seemingly whole.

There are moments when one can see what looks like a typical colonnade, though it may belong to a stadium in Kabul. As these different architectures become immersed in the mark, they create together what I refer to as a third place, a new possibility. The desire of trying to make sense of it plays with the idea of the algorithm, a tool predominantly utilized in science to predict a particular kind of ending.

But there are always breaks in predictability, always a return. The Atlantic historically separated and rejoined populations in a constant crossing—the slave trade, the evolution of the colonies, cultural, economic, and psychological imports. I’m interested in that liminal condition because of the present social moment that faces another threshold of being in between. In Cairo, the revolution was co-opted in some ways; in Syria, there is still a horrific war; in Libya, an incredible intervention has left complete disorder. Every revolution turns out differently and some end without a resolution, as with the dissolution and shift of Occupy Wall Street. The revolution in Ethiopia in 1974 shifted my life as a young child, relocating my family to an area previously unfamiliar to us—East Lansing, Michigan. It was a huge break that has forever left an imprint on me.

Within the revolutionary impulse there typically exists an idealism and a desire for the impossible. These core aspects are processed in my studio through a highly pressurized distillation system with loud music and beats. The hand marks, flings, percussive chops, and morphs build something entirely different: an unknown.