Lydia Dona

Marc Jancou

The ability to create increasingly convincing virtual worlds using computer technology has reopened pictorial space beyond the canvas: it has become habitable. The phenomenological cast of so much recent art, with its insistence on “real” space, time, bodily presence, and so on, gives sensual fullness to the act of seeing. It is this new perceptual space that Lydia Dona examines in her painting.

Three large, body-proportioned canvases hung on the left wall and four smaller paintings were displayed beyond a large window toward the back of the room on the right. Both in their size and configuration, these works demand a somatic response. All three larger paintings have geometric holes you can get in through as they are less abstract, more amenable to the soft presence of the body: an eccentric triangle, a squashed oval, a quartered, truncated, off-center square. Zones of Becoming and the Effects of Chemical Brides, 1994, has a large inverted black triangle against a blue background decorated at its corners with enamel dribbles and other painterly business, figurative and otherwise. Kasimir Malevich’s void meets Yves Klein’s. And these absences in Dona’s paintings are spaces of possibility beyond the surface, not just gaps in a play that occurs across it.

This new group of works continues Dona’s use of diagrams found in car manuals. Mechanical, rational, and therefore thoroughly comprehensible, they nonetheless remain mysterious to Dona or anyone else who knows little of engines. Another recurrent image, more notational than diagrammatic, suggests clusters of carbon rings, the molecular structure of organic compounds, cyborgs and brides: machines that appropriate humanity, and bodies whose erotic couplings become stylized through technology. Here, Marcel Duchamp meets Philip K. Dick on J. G. Ballard’s cyberhighway.

The process of making these paintings is a mixture of human agency, natural laws, and mechanized detachment. The system is the same in each case. There is a dry, matte acrylic ground, gridded up in pencil onto which oil, malleable and substantial, is worked and then enamel, fluid and reflective, is dripped. Jackson Pollock is there almost because he has to be, but Dona drips with the painting on the wall, not the floor, and then pushes the paint around with an electric fan, causing it to pool, ripple, and go in directions it would not normally wish to take. Colors, some apparently more artificial than natural, reveal the inherent instability of the body and its image. The debate within art on the continuance of painting becomes inseparable from the larger discussion on the environment, technology, and identity.

Just as the paintings emerge from a consistent set of procedures, Dona’s titles are all of the form—the this and the that: Motors of Desire and the Flow of Peripheries Salvaging the Folds of Desire and the Phantasms of Pink Taboos, 1994, and so on into linguistic heaven. “This” and “that” draw on familiar theoretical and art-historical territories, butting them up against each other. Scattered throughout are elements of a vocabulary—becoming, folds, flow, nomads—that place Dona in Gilles Deleuze’s and Felix Guattari’s orbit. Her paintings are patchworks not weaves. Rather than charting the space of technologically inflected reality, cutting it up and defining it, “striating” it according to one or another set of precepts, they move through it, treating it as “smooth.” Her excess is a refusal to be engulfed by the system.

Michael Archer