New York

Vernon Fisher

Barbara Gladstone Gallery

“Snow” is the key word in Vernon Fisher’s new triptychs of texts and images. Snow, the natural phenomenon, appears as the manifest content of two of the narratives. In one an unfortunate child, never prepared for “sharing time” in school, finally demonstrates snow by crumbling Kleenex; in another snowflakes fall, as big as “trashcan lids” and as “transparent” as “jellyfish.” Snow, the technological phenomenon—interference on your TV set—forms the latent content of all the pieces: Fisher’s use of texts superimposed on photo-derived images, each obscuring the other, invokes bad reception on the tube. His insistence on using visual imagery from the mass media, and his fractured multiplicity, strengthen the theme of information overload, snow as the buzz of competing signals. Even the re-creation of a Jackson Pollock “drip” painting, in Pollock, becomes in this context the objective correlative of static.

The impulse is to tune out the background noise. Yet “interference” is for Fisher the crucial interface, the point from which one can see/hear both sides. It’s where meaning resides. Hence the presence of various images of transparency and of connection. In Snow Dream there are the jellyfishlike snowflakes, and a small bridge mediates between its own rainbow-colored three-dimensionality and a rectangle of black brushstrokes applied directly on the wall. In Albino, a sheet of tracing paper allows us to see through to stars painted underneath. The central panel is a kind of photorealist painting representing blue sky and clouds. The albino of the text, we infer, is both monstrous, a freak of nature, belonging to the “bestial” representations of the third part of the triptych—canvas cutouts of a rabbit, dog, lion, caveman among others—and otherworldly: ethereal in her whiteness, the “celestial” stars and clouds claim her.

There are some distinctions that, at first, Fisher does not seem willing to blur. Several pieces dealing with relations between men and women incorporate war imagery—fighter planes, paratroopers, swastikas. No easy connections here. But if the only place where both sexes can meet is in battle, is the annihilation that results like the evanescence of the albino? Pollock insists on male and female anatomical differences: when the woman in the text says that she’d like to urinate into a fireplace as Pollock reportedly did, the man objects that “it wouldn’t be the same.” A urinal hangs on the right; on the left, however, a gently swelling, undifferentiated sea vacillates, the indiscriminate end of divergent streams.

So, if there are times when multiple transmissions create a simultaneous broadcast, there are also times when they cancel each other out, when none of the signals is intelligible. Show and Tell, a paradigm of Fisher’s method, does not simply posit the feebleness of one procedure when separated from the other. Meanings are no sooner insinuated than contradicted. Beneath the narrative of the little girl’s humiliation during show-and-tell period, two men hold up their catch of fish. In the center, a blackboard has large snowflakes and the word “snow” on it, to which, on the right, the comic-strip character Aunt Fritzi primly points. The little girl’s poverty of invention and experience contrasts with the fishermen’s abundance; the fictive associations attaching to them—the big one that got away, the whopper—deny the strict “fact” of the blackboard’s schoolroom didacticism. And, of course, the snow on the board isn’t snow, isn’t even chalk—it’s paint. If each of these negates the others, that’s appropriate: the moment you touch “real” snow it melts. But the blizzard of input and information is with us forever.

Jeanne Silverthorne