Los Angeles

Fandra Chang

Shea & Boorstein

In recent years, Los Angeles nonrepresentational painters have begun to carve out a niche for themselves as deconstructors of traditional Modernist formalism. Instead of exploiting metaphysical oppositions such as center/margin, inside/outside, work/frame, and this/that, these artists favor a more differentiated approach, in which supplemental elements such as edge and surround supplant the usual dominant paradigms through endless slippage and deferral. In an impressive solo debut, Fandra Chang firmly aligns herself with this group in a series of mixed-media works that deliberately play on fluid, Nietzschean motifs such as becoming and eternal recurrence.

Undercurrent, 1991, for example, consists of a horizontal series of four wooden panels of which the first and third are recessed in a boxlike structure and covered with a translucent skin or scrim. The grain of the two outer panels is silk-screened in black etching ink on their own natural surface and/or on the scrim. However, Chang also flops and repeats the grain on the two inner panels, suggesting the effect of veneered furniture. The progression thus reads from left to right as surprinted grain on scrim and indented wood; the same grain reversed on wood; the right edge’s grain reversed on scrim; followed by the right edge’s grain surprinted on itself. In this way, Chang forces us to read each center and interior as interchangeably repeated patterns of edge and exterior. Thus the traditional binary of inside/outside, center/frame is overturned through a process of deferral, repetition, and return. Moreover, the surprinted scrim tends to create moiré effects on the grain beneath (the “undercurrent” of the title), producing such retinal confusion that we are forced to the work’s mechanical surface for some semblance of stability.

The problem with this approach is that we can still draw on the surrounding wall as both a visual and a conceptual anchor, effectively reducing the work to a mere window. Chang removes this haven in Autonomy/Monotony I, 1992, a seemingly benign single-panel work that ultimately reproduces itself endlessly in the mind’s eye to encompass the entire surrounding space. An indented, scrimmed diamond shape is inserted in the center of a wood surface. A cross is silk-screened on the surface of both the scrim and the underlying wood, as if to deliberately “mark the spot” of the center of the work’s interior and surface. However, the cross is repeated in fragmented quarters at the corners of the overall square, as if to suggest that the crosses will be completed if additional clones of the work are abutted next to it on each side. Chang thus suggests that the work can only be a provisional whole, for it can also proliferate in an endless return of its own formal makeup.

Although one might complain that Chang forces us to do too much of the work as mental rather than retinally pleasurable production, Untitled (Poplar), 1991, suggests that she is loosening her formal hold on the work’s reception by also encouraging deliberately playful readings. The work consists of three vertical sections in which painted and unpainted poplar surfaces frame an indented, scrimmed panel in the center. The scrim quickly loses its role as a central anchor, however, because it also repeats the curved, painted surface of the right-hand panel as a flopped mirror image. The left panel is thereby isolated as a supplement, the center becomes the left edge of the new composition, and the equilibrium of the work as a whole constantly shifts as we struggle to realign it with each new set of parameters. This endless formal game is not so much an eternal return of the same, but is instead a far more disorienting recurrence of difference: in short, a becoming.

Colin Gardner