New York

Gwenn Thomas

Grace Borgenicht Gallery

Like a good linguist, Gwenn Thomas explores both the diachronic and the synchronic in her framed Cibachromes. One might also say that her works push us through time and space, at high velocity, to a point of relativity. Note how the exaggerated corridor perspective in Theater of Memory I, 1984–85, where the converging lines of ceiling and floor extend out onto the frame with paint, is tilted, as if we were swept off our feet in a wind tunnel. The effect of speed is heightened, as when a section of this same wall appears to curve in Untitled (Diptych), 1984–86, and so is the hallucinatory. These are like stills from the part of the film where the hero suffers the results of a Mickey Finn.

The simultaneity, or pentimento, of the peeling and cracking surfaces of these photographed rooms—in an old industrial, commercial, or institutional building—works against a suggestion of development from its present abandoned state to a domestic squatting in the future. (Note the invasion of the ironing board and armchairs in the last print in the show Theater of Memory III, 1984–86.) The illusionistic frames deepen the space of each work, but this tugs against reading the series as a text, from left to right (that this is Thomas’ intent seems clear from the fact that Theater of Memory comes in three different versions, presented in numerical order on both the walls and the title list). The sign from which the title Trays and Dishes—Straight Ahead, 1984–86, is taken provides another example of its contrapuntal nature. The instructions are directional, again pushing us through space; however, they are given not only in English but in three other languages as well, creating a linguistic traffic jam around the road sign.

Moreover, the speed of visual apprehension leaves behind the verbal explanation exposed in a work like Passage, 1984–86. This, as usual, is a framed photograph of a window through which a courtyard surrounded by the wings of buildings is just visible. Nesting boxes, the real frame, the window frame, and compound are visually telescopic. But, conceptually, these will not conform into neat concentricity. The painting on the frame extends the scene outward, toward the viewer, yet the photographed paint on the muntins spills over onto the glass, expanding that frame but reducing the compound, moving it away from the viewer. The compound, in turn, though visually smaller than any of the other elements, is thematically largest since it is the end point of the scene, and ironically out of focus, of course.

Perspective may be a metaphor for progress, with its pursuit of a point that disguises its ever-vanishing character. Still, it’s Thomas’ camera that does this, egging us on deeper and deeper into her spaces, so that the camera is already there, as both voyeur and stage manager, awaiting our arrival. It’s the black door with the aperture of light in it at the end of the hall of Theater of Memory I, and, in a final confounding of time and space, it is the hall itself, inside which we already are.

Jeanne Silverthorne