New York

Cecile Abish

Alessandra Gallery

Cecile Abish seizes the floor and subverts it to her purpose by using it as an integral part of her sculpture. Her marbles, boards and bare spaces constitute a simple, bold statement whose clarity and purpose is conveyed by the implications of its process. Marbles spread across each defined area; hardboards placed directly on the floor leave bare spaces beneath when they are re-placed on top of the marble layer. Each element is treated with equal concern, contradicting the notion of separateness or emptiness of the contrasting layers.

The title refers to the circular existence of the three elements, each relating to the other in temporal as well as physical ways. This proceeds logically from some of Abish’s former pieces. Early earthworks dealt with removal—transferring dirt by digging a shallow area, then depositing discarded soil next to the excavation. The same process reappeared in Face Lift, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, in 1974. Dirt had changed to marbles, wood pieces represented the excavated element, the outlined bare space left behind paralleled the freshly dug pits.

Three separate elements existed in these early pieces, but were more obscured in the dirt: bottom soil (below ground), grass (ground level), discarded pile (above ground level). Translated into the new materials, the three elements are clearly visible: floor, marbles, wood, layered upon each other. Abish’s intent is not to separate these elements, but to emphasize their interlocking roles in creating a special surface.

Thus the paradox of the piece. The hardboard, though supported by a layer of marbles, is obviously a positive leftover belonging to a specific negative space, while the negative is filled by the lowest surface element. Something has been removed, but nothing is missing.

An underlying system governing the placement and removal of each board unit gives the work a neat sparse appearance which is evident to the viewer even without following the specific steps involved. The striking handsomeness of Near/Next/Now may be incidental to Abish’s voiced concerns, but the contrasting colors and surfaces of each element and the preciseness of an inherently precarious placement have a validity all their own.

Light shines through the scattered marbles and glints brightly off their glass surfaces; reflections gleam dully from the polished floors; the light-colored hardboard emits subdued highlights, similar in tone to the neutral walls and intruding pillars of the gallery. Though three separate installations maintain distinct areas through the gallery, pathways cleared in between them serve to unite the works, so the viewer perceives them as a whole.

Beginning with a simple process of laying down and picking up boards in a line to delineate a path through the marbles, Abish has evolved a system of actual cuts into the surface of hardboard, adding another way of indicating direction in the pieces. Weaving in circular patterns, the penetrating cuts in Near Where I Live snaked through the boards, and were quoted in cleared pathways around the piece. The lines cutting through Near/Next/Now do not proceed as simply. Tracing a single double circle if four panels of hardboard lay together, the circle is broken and turned around as each successive board is removed to another area across the piece.

Looking like parts of a subtle jigsaw puzzle, the dismembered boards hang supported by the layer of marbles, depending on it to hold them up and in place. Each layer performs a function existing independently of the whole and yet contributing to it. Cecile Abish has defined her own problem and evolved a set of solutions that are continually growing, expanding the scope of each efficient, powerful piece.

Deborah Perlberg