New York

Agnes Denes

James Yu Gallery

In a different way the problem of congruence between medium and message occurs in Agnes Denes’ work. Her drawings serve as diagrammatic explorations of her philosophical ideas. Yet the complex verbal thinking underlying the visual information is left out; the illustrations have no text. It is not so much that Denes’ visual explanations are inappropriate, it is rather that they are insufficient. For example, Pyramid Series #1 depicts several pyramids built up of wobbly lined units which suggest instability—as if the pyramids might crumble and have to be reformed. Several mathematical formulae describe the shapes, while elsewhere on the paper varying triangular configurations of will-effort-mind or conflict-survival-harmony are opposed to more static dual systems of life-death or day-night in which the third point of the triad is unknown. All of this might be seen as an implementation of Denes’ professed philosophy of “dialectic triangulation” by which “one builds progressive trichotomies, failing and succeeding in a dialectic method, each time arriving at a better thesis on a higher level.” However, there is no such verbal explanation accompanying the drawing; the chart lacks its key.

It is interesting that several of Denes’ drawings involve a “study of distortions” which highlight the discrepancies incurred in the translation of verbal concepts into visual images. In Pascal’s Triangle Denes plots the ideally triangular numerical order onto a circular graph—resulting in an unexpected parabolic configuration. What happens here is that by placing a symbol, in this case the numerical progression, in an alien context Denes divorces it from its specific meaning. By extension this notion of projection and resultant loss of communication might be applied to Denes’ own work. By separating her illustrations from the verbal richness of their cognitive genesis, Denes deprives her signifiers of their full significance. The consequence is that her reevaluation and questioning of knowledge is only hinted at; the ideas are never really clarified. Her drawings remain annotations which have been clipped from their text.

Susan Heinemann