New York

Jeanne Silverthorne

Jeanne Silverthorne’s crudely rendered sculptural objects examine the way in which ideas take form. Acknowledging the notion that all ideas are channeled through preestablished linguistic codes, her art exploits the conventions that we employ in order to translate thought processes and biological functions into codified language.

In many of Silverthorne’s sculptures, ideas are represented as actual objects. Thought Clouds, 1987, an amorphous cluster of black rubber globules with a stem, resembling a cauliflower, takes the conventional scallop-edged cartoon bubble used to signify a thought or idea and transforms it into a tarnished clump of material. She demonstrates that an idea is only beautiful in the abstract; once it has been materialized, it is corporeal and, therefore, imperfect. In Thought Clouds, Silverthorne has deflated Plato’s ideal forms, thereby exhibiting the clumsiness with which representations express an idea’s essence.

Lightbulbs, 1987, employs another pictorial cliché commonly used to symbolize an idea. Here, a wire outline of a light bulb inside a scalloped cloud projects from a cluster of bulbs. Traditionally, a light bulb stands as a metaphor for an idea because it illuminates; here, however, the bulbs are opaque. As bulbs are implicitly representations of the idea of light bulb, and the rubber bulbs propose another mediation, Silverthorne draws a witty parallel between idea and the representation of idea in order to demonstrate that all ideas are self-reflexive and, therefore, subjective.

In DNA III, 1988, Silverthorne collapses the biological structure of life into two identical inert masses of interwoven cords cast in hydrocal. Keys attached to each sculpture’s side suggest wind-up toys. Choked by their own strands, the deflated forms of DNA seem to have run out of energy. DNA is a model for encoding life, but one that is circumscribed by the limitations of a language system. Because life-forms are unique not only between but within distinct species, the biological disposition of an individual can never be adequately codified. By casting two identical renditions of a unique pattern, Silverthorne underscores the inadequacy of scientific descriptions of life.

Silverthorne’s work reveals that forms of representation, be they scientific, mathematical, or artistic, are linguistic mediations and, therefore, removed from their subject. DNA III demonstrates that life is impossible to describe through language, and any attempt to do so is ultimately superficial. Just as science is tethered to its ideological determination and only tangentially intersects its subject, so too are all forms of representation. In this way Silverthorne implicates her own discipline and its history by her critique. Her sculptures toy with linguistic models, injecting them with a self-consciousness that aims to unfetter their signifying potential.

Kirby Gookin