New York

Kathryn Clark

Twining Gallery

California-based artist Kathryn Clark’s recent exhibition features three separate but compatible installations. The show’s title, “Something Personal,” signals her approach to political issues such as genocide in Central America and AIDS. In place of staggering statistics, Clark has attempted to personalize these crises—to bring them down to a human scale—with mixed-media works that combine intimate photographs and handwritten texts.

In a collaboration with Kirk Maxson entitled Rose Window (from A Window on AIDS), 1989, a hanging vase contains a bouquet of dead roses that droop toward the floor, which is covered with dried petals symbolizing the countless thousands who have died of AIDS. On the wall behind the vase are intimate photographs obliquely suggestive of suffering, caring, mourning, and death. Despite their subject, these images are surprisingly comforting and seem to echo Clark’s handwritten inscription: “Live with tenderness, remember through action.” This installation, which originally appeared in a storefront window as part of project called A Window on AIDS (organized by Clark in Santa Barbara), looks equally at home in a gallery setting.

In Naming Names, 1990, a small, enclosed room, the walls of which were covered by 10,000 handwritten names in neat rows, served as a memorial to the many more thousands of Salvadoran and Guatemalan citizens killed in the past decade. In a glass case the artist has presented traditional garments of the Guatemalan Indians representing this population marked for genocide, while an open U.S. foreign policy document reveals text with the word “human” systematically deleted. On the walls are three photographs, each one depicting a woman either silencing herself or being silenced––Clark’s metaphor for the situation of the victims of those governments.

The resemblance of Naming Names to the now-famous Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt that commemorates people who have died of AIDS, is unmistakeable. Far from morbid, these installations are strangely inviting, and lend a palpability to the massive tragedies they address without overwhelming the viewer. Here the artist’s collaborative process is worth noting. Central American refugees living in Los Angeles contributed to Naming Names, and people with AIDS participated in Rose Window. In these collaborations, Clark has worked to give a voice to two groups of people whose worst enemy is silence.

Clark’s focus, however, is not the political details of these issues. While artists such as David Wojnarowicz rightly and aggressively target the United States government for its lack of response to the AIDS crisis, Clark takes a different tack, with a call to those affected by the AIDS crisis to “reaffirm tenderness, love, and the basic physical support often missing for those people living with AIDS.”

The third part of this show is a series of photographic diptychs, entitled “Mindful Affection,” 1987–89, that contrast images of people in a variety of emotional states with images of fragile objects, mostly from nature, such as rare flowers, fruits, and eggs. These pictures, taken with second-hand Diana cameras that create a hazy atmosphere, emphasize the vulnerability of the subjects. Three handwritten stories, in which the artist relates certain childhood experiences about love and community, appear in a case. The photographs and text of “Mindful Affection” strengthen the message of Rose Window, which is more potent in this context than it would be alone. Clark is at her best when she engages the often-overlooked personal side of political issues. She demonstrates here that a low-key, nonaggressive approach can be effective in raising audience awareness not only of the issues, but also of the pressing need for action.

Jenifer P. Borum