Los Angeles

View of “Lisa Anne Auerbach,” 2014. From left: Oops! I did it again, 2014; Whip Chin, 2010; Feather Duster, 2010; Vanity, 2010.

View of “Lisa Anne Auerbach,” 2014. From left: Oops! I did it again, 2014; Whip Chin, 2010; Feather Duster, 2010; Vanity, 2010.

Lisa Anne Auerbach

View of “Lisa Anne Auerbach,” 2014. From left: Oops! I did it again, 2014; Whip Chin, 2010; Feather Duster, 2010; Vanity, 2010.

Liking the work of Lisa Anne Auerbach can simply come down to liking the things that she likes—knitting, bicycling, books, and zines. These hobbies, each threatened to varying degrees with obsolescence, are all deserving of support. Even if you don’t actively share Auerbach’s interests, you can at least appreciate her enthusiasm as demonstrated in her work. Crafts, sports, literature: At one time or another, each has served as the emblematic “other” to art, yet here they are the integral figures of an aesthetic equation, and their lifestyle connotations cannot be as easily dismissed.

Auerbach’s recent exhibition at Gavlak featured a range of works in the knitted merino wool for which she is known, in some cases attached to canvas supports and in others adorning life-size mannequin likenesses of the artist. Among the wall-mounted works, knitted tapestries depicting shelved books, their spines facing out and titles clearly legible, played on the theme of the library. That these works are produced on electronic looms from digital files without any manual intercession only underscores the loom’s historical function as a point origin of our present “computer world,” and therefore also precisely the beginning of the end of the print media she chose to represent here. Auerbach is less concerned with what is disappearing, however, than with what is worth saving. In 2011, during the process of moving house, she sorted through her collection of books one by one, noting not only their contents but the emotional value they held for her. These notes found their way into two small publications respectively titled BOOKSHELF (2012) and BOOKSHELF 2 (2014). “My biography resides in the bookshelves,” she writes in the former, and in this show as well the books cumulatively constitute a series of deflected self-portraits, each knitted shelf presenting different aspects of the artist’s personality. They are titled by category—The Natural World and Crafts and Astrology, both 2014—and loosely arranged by these genres (which encompass art theory, extreme literature, how-to, etc.). One is invited to imagine the reader who is drawn to these texts and who has categorized them in this way. One may additionally reconsider one’s own reading habits as a form of idiosyncratic self-production, for what we seek in a book is always something personal and therefore tangential to the author’s intent. Roland Barthes’s well-known etymological linkage of text and textile is relevant here. We weave texts into “the fabric of our lives” (as Cotton Incorporated would have it), continually renegotiating their authorship.

Although Auerbach commissioned the manufacture of much of this work from outside fabricators, she, like Barthes, puts a premium on physicality. Her doppelgänger mannequins, sporting book-nerd sweaters and pants, are posed dynamically, suggesting an immediate conversion of the vita contemplativa into a vita activa. Reading is here literally the pre-text to sexual and/or political action, which in turn produces more writing. An overhead photograph of the artist lying facedown on her bed, stripped to her skivvies and perusing some bondage porn, reveals her dirty feet—the image’s erotic punctum. Yet, in relation to the surrounding white sheets, these blackened soles can further serve as an embodied sign of the printing press.

Also included in the exhibition were twenty gouache compositions on paper, which recall Josef Albers’s formal exercises while once again referencing woven patterns, their strict geometries undone by the errant course of the artist’s hand. If this amounts to a signature gesture, then it is one that metaphorically submits to the warp and weft of preexisting textile geometries. There is a political angle to Auerbach’s practice that can be traced from the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century to the DIY ethos of punk to the artisanal movement of today. As the late critic Lawrence Alloway suggested, the word culture shouldn’t be reserved for the rare masterpiece; it is simply “what a society does.” In her profoundly democratic practice, Auerbach does what we all do, only more so.

Jan Tumlir