Chicago

Edith Altman

Marianne Deson Gallery

During the past five years, Edith Altman’s work has done its best to capture time in a variety of ways. Sometimes, she drops paper to the floor, fastens in the transience by sewing folds, and displays a consequent “drawing” that recalls Duchamp’s stoppages. Or, in sequential photography, she records the gradual entrapment of snow by wire grids cut into autumn ground; the emergence of “dyed” grass made by powder pigment in melting snow; the differing appearances of a sculpture-group on the beach, in the park, at home, and in the gallery. To judge from sundry, first-person “artist’s statements” issued as part of her work, Altman appraises it all as a counterpart to mankind’s vulnerable universe-situation, some evidence of the unpredictable, one artist’s own refusal to erect another assertive hunk of material.

Wonderfully poetic; but, perhaps, just wishful thinking. Documents, per se, are objects. Drawings and photos take up room just like other material things, and they also evidence an artist’s own assertive decision that they be made. Nature flows on uncontrolledly; if an artist isolates an event for display it inevitably becomes a self-conscious act. Altman manages to come up with surprisingly imaginative situations appropriate to her theme, and her photo-documents are pervaded by a sensitive, Zenlike mood, not too much compromised by some tricky abstract designs. But, perhaps more to the issue of this show, her work concerns possession.

To “have” something is about as unnatural as you might get. It stops the flows, consolidates realities. Yet Altman’s pivotal exhibit, Two Weeks, is really about owning. It is a light installation which “fixes” in space events that happened a year ago in a completely different location.

Altman’s original site was a vacant room with a large window. Each day, at various times and temperatures, using tape, string, pastels, graphite, wood, weights, and notes on the wall, Altman recorded the day, indicating “shape” of light reflections, variations in color quality of light, and shadows formed by the architecture of the room. This is a meticulous act of conservation, requiring an ambitious obsession. The final record extends from ceiling to floor in a fairly colorful overlay, its experiential coming-to-be having a mechanical counterpart in the photographic slides which Altman made of each noted event. Then she traced the whole superimposition onto a large, master blueprint and left the room, with her “two weeks” all recorded to replay on another occasion. At the current gallery, the pattern is transferred onto a new wall—in one visual moment—while a continuously flashing slide-carousel projects, one by one, pieces of the sequential record. The whole thing, then, has nice geometry, color, line, form, etc.; transience looks structured.

The fact is, of course, that you cannot “fix” light and you cannot pile up minutes and you cannot stop time. Altman’s installation is a daydream with events commingled. To take the motion out of shadows, for example, has its basis only in fantasy. And, paradoxical to “antiobject” art, it is an act that tends toward stasis. And yet, even while shadows move, Altman has made a provocative phantom of stability.

C.L. Morrison