New York

Lydia Dona

Tom Cugliani Gallery

Entropy disintegrates and is simultaneously regenerated in Lydia Dona’s mappings of the void. Her supercharged explorations of nothingness do not take the form of pure, aggressive negations, nor do they skirt around the impossibility of representing this unpictureable realm. In her theoretical paintings, Dona plunges into the miasma at the center of absolute absence. Without restraint or hesitation, her systematic abstractions give compelling physical form to the unbridgeable gap between cognition and perception, knowledge and experience. The visual shifts, planar slippages, diagrammatic displacements, and slippery coloristic collisions that make up the faultlike surfaces of her paintings mark the point when one’s capacity for rationality runs up against its limits: when what can be conceived cannot be adequately or convincingly represented.

Whereas Kant aligned this phenomenon with the sublime, locating it in nature’s indomitable processes, Dona displaces its intoxicating effect. Her implosions of heterogeneous sign systems collapse the ungovernable machinations of nature onto the realm of pure artifice—into the unboundable, voracious sphere of incessantly reproduced cultural signs. The once-privileged space of abstract painting is usurped by her conceptually oriented program that delivers a cybernetic vision of Romantic sublimity. Dona’s instantiations of overwhelming incoherence are numbing, befuddling, and ugly at the same time that they are vital, clear-sighted, and seductive. Her images embody complexities and contradictions that derail thought from its usual, predictable movements and that engender an undeniably physical grip on otherwise neutral ideas and intangible suspicions.

Dona’s latest installation of seven expansive paintings transferred the panoramic vision intrinsic to natural landscapes to an abutted, filmic montage of sharply edited segments, mesmerizing foci, and quasi-fetishized fragments. Hung at the height of the average visitor’s solar plexus, her first predominantly horizontal works direct themselves to the sensitive network of nerves situated in the upper part of the human body, right behind the stomach and just in front of the aorta. Dona’s paintings prioritize the flesh: they do not replay a worn-out mind-body dualism, but generate thinking by way of corporeality, forcing you to pay attention to the most subtle infractions and inflections of your nervous and circulatory systems. In contrast to a similarly structured installation from two years ago, the latest manifestation of Dona’s ambitious energy eschews consciousness and rationality in favor of unconscious drives, intimate vulnerability, and no-holds-barred sexuality. With a softer palette of more feminine, fleshy pinks, perverse lavenders, and pastelish greens—consistently interrupted by smoky charcoals, smeared browns, and almost suffocating blacks—Dona makes a place for fluidity in a realm which is impossible to leave without violence, denial, and pain.

David Pagel