Thomasine Bradford

Underlying Gallery

Thomasine Bradford’s new work is philosophical without abandoning its concrete physicality. She uses materials and strategies reminiscent of Jannis Kounellis to create a formal and personal vision of female embodiment. The “Unsigned” series, 1987, is ambiguously figural. Bradford has set roughly cube-shaped glass vessels (each about 12 inches on a side) on standing shelves made of weathered scrap wood. The vessels refer simultaneously to the place of women’s bodies in Western, Christian society (vessels of both iniquity and reproduction, bearers of milk) and to the art forms considered appropriate for women. Each of the pieces stands on its own legs (of scrap wood in Unsigned I and III and of lead in II) and is a rough approximation of a standing, headless figure—a purely physical female body. Unsigned III is supported by three legs, one of which has two horizontal rungs that project out from it, phallic elements subsumed in the embodiment of the feminine. This piece was in the middle of the gallery, with the rest of the show spatially and conceptually radiating around it. Its fragile, asymmetrical balance, excessive body, and stark colorlessness make it a striking projection of Bradford’s visual and political system.

Her appropriation of the phallic extends into the “Aftereffects” series, also 1987. The primary feature of each of these four works is a slender 12-foot-long post mounted at a slight angle to the wall, so that its bottom, pointed end projects out into the gallery space. About three-quarters of the way up the posts she has mounted configurations of various more or less representational elements in lead and thick rope. The distortion of Christian and organic symbols is a key element in this series. Aftereffects I bears a wedge-shaped crossbeam from which is suspended a 1 1/2-inch-thick rope that ends in a large lead flower bud. In Aftereffects II, the upper portion of a similar length of rope forms a frozen horizontal loop that projects from the post like a lariat, a Sunday-school-pageant halo, or a noose. Aftereffects III has a bundle of short, lead “stakes” bound to the post by rope. The stakes suggest artillery shells, or, if the overall forms are taken as figural, the offspring of the parent post. Aftereffects IV bears a large, lead boomerang shape reminiscent of ’50s chrome automobile trim.

In these works, Bradford is reclaiming a sense of physical being-in-the-world, looking both outward at physical, sexual, and political reality and backward at a repressive childhood. She is trying to, in the terms of Lacanian feminism, reinscribe the Imaginary—to create space in which a new pre-linguistic mode of apprehension might ultimately form the basis of a new verbal and visual language.

Glenn Harper