Critics’ Picks

Klea McKenna, Underground (1), 2019, copper, sepia, and selenium toned photogram and relief on gelatin silver fiber paper, 24 x 20".

Klea McKenna, Underground (1), 2019, copper, sepia, and selenium toned photogram and relief on gelatin silver fiber paper, 24 x 20".

San Francisco

Klea McKenna

EUQINOM Gallery
1295 Alabama St
September 7–November 9, 2019

On the exterior wall of the building where Klea McKenna's exhibition hangs, a mural speaks of the long relationship between women and the manufacture of textiles both sacred and secular. McKenna montaged dozens of iconic photos of textile production: Images of Egyptian women embroidering, for instance, are juxtaposed with the tragic Lewis Hine photos of child factory laborers. Like a medieval tapestry, the composite picture serves as both illustration and metaphor, outlining a history of the tradition while alluding to the deeper connotations of the relationship.

Out of this fascination came McKenna's latest body of work, large photograms of fabrics, such as an Uzbek suzani, decaying fragments of Chinese silk, and an Afghan niqab. Artists from Anna Atkins to Adam Fuss have used the photogram technique—placing an object on top of photosensitive paper and exposing it to light—to produce silhouette-like images of their subjects. McKenna has elaborated on the process here, using a flashlight and other tools in her darkroom to allow for more complexity. And she has layered not only the materials to be photographed but also the chemistry itself. Sepia, selenium, and copper tones illuminate the fine textures of the cloth and create additional patterns and forms that echo, but remain distinct from, her images’ origins. Like the women who wove these fabrics, McKenna works with her hands, creating physical impressions of her subjects to double their images. The outcome is a beautiful marriage of McKenna’s media and ideas with the tradition she’s honoring—with all of its brutality and delicacy.