Milan

View of “Helen Mirra,” 2013. From left: Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 6, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 9, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 10, 2012. From the series “Hourly Directional Field Notations,” 2011–.

View of “Helen Mirra,” 2013. From left: Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 6, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 9, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 10, 2012. From the series “Hourly Directional Field Notations,” 2011–.

Helen Mirra

Galleria Raffaella Cortese | Via Stradella 7

View of “Helen Mirra,” 2013. From left: Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 6, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 9, 2012; Arizonan Sonoran Desert, January 10, 2012. From the series “Hourly Directional Field Notations,” 2011–.

Some rectangles of raw linen hanging on the walls made up one part of this solo show by American artist Helen Mirra. Creases in the canvases revealed that they had been folded numerous times, like maps. And maybe they are something like that. They belong to a series called “Hourly Directional Field Notations,” begun in 2011; the ones on view were created in Arizona in January 2012, during one of the many nature expeditions the artist has organized since 2010. Of course, you could never find your way through the desert with these works, and what appears on the fabric surfaces are not precise directions but visual annotations of movement through a landscape, a kind of travel journal. Before going out in the field, the artist makes two rough stitches at the bottom of the linen to mark south. Then, while walking, she chooses stones along the way, inking them with green pigment, and makes an imprint on the linen. Once I learned that the artist carried these canvases folded in her backpack and took them out to mark them with found stones and natural pigments, it became clear to me that these were surfaces on which Mirra could note experiences, including private ones, connected to the journey itself—experiences that began, precisely, with visual impressions and then ended up as visual impressions of another kind.

The act of walking is fundamental to Mirra’s artmaking, and is linked to contemplation, an existential condition that can be achieved through the kinetic activity that allows her to continuously update the object of her attention. These works indicate how Mirra makes us participants, too, in her way of seeing and perceiving; tracing signs on the canvas, she offers clues about how to see things—from what viewpoint and through what activity.

In another series on display here, created in Japan in the autumn of 2012, the artist pressed stones onto her canvas, one after another, attempting to delineate a drawing made up of many small imprints of green stones, the placement of each impression being a factor of the direction she was walking at the time. Titled “Hourly Field Notes,” 2011–, these pieces consist of bands of hand-finished cotton. Each canvas is made up of seven such bands, reflecting the seven hours per day that the artist devotes to walking during her expeditions: green bands when the day was sunny, blue when it was rainy. No matter the weather, the last portion of each band contains an inscription, as if to signify that during the final hours of her walk, Mirra also felt the need to express herself in words.

Marco Tagliafierro

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.