Emilie Ding, Untitled, 2016, felt, steel, 78 3/4 × 76 1/8 × 11 5/8".

Emilie Ding, Untitled, 2016, felt, steel, 78 3/4 × 76 1/8 × 11 5/8".

Emilie Ding

Galerie Samy Abraham

Emilie Ding, Untitled, 2016, felt, steel, 78 3/4 × 76 1/8 × 11 5/8".

With the five works in “B.O.D.I.E.S.,” Emilie Ding remains faithful to the large formats, rigorous selection and isolation of elementary geometric forms, and spare surfaces for which she has become known. And yet here she ventured in a new direction, abandoning other familiar characteristics: the depth and resistance of materials like concrete; the precision and almost gestalt-like quality of her drawings; gradations of black and gray in patterns, repeated in series, faint to the point of evanescence; industrial architecture as a model. Instead, she’s been exploring, for the first time, felt made from carded wool. Violating the character of this ordinarily nonflammable material, the artist has burned the surface, obtaining a charcoal-black coloration. Putting into action the title of one of her earlier drawings on paper, Burning, 2011, she has obtained an effect close to that of Alberto Burri’s “Cretti,” ca. 1970–79. The controlled gesture manifests the physical presence of the artist, the processual nature of the work, and the transformation of material that generates forms with clear outlines. The surface of rough felt, on the one hand, and the granular, volcanic texture of the combustion, on the other, remain distinct (irregularities are visible only upon close examination) but removed from any hierarchical figure-ground relationship.

The mode of presentation also varied from that of Ding’s earlier works. While she has often shown her pieces resting directly on the floor and against the wall, in this case they were draped over steel bars protruding from the walls. The layers of felt descended vertically and parallel to the wall, but gravity was not the only determining factor for the work’s conformation. Slight surface undulations result from the nature of the material and the passage of time. Ding’s work is fundamentally closer to Swiss geometric abstraction and to Italian design, from Archizoom to Ettore Sottsass, than to the anti-form cutouts of Robert Morris or to post-Minimalism more generally.

“B.O.D.I.E.S.” showed no interest in the baroque aesthetic of the fold, with its relationship between light and shade, exposure and concealment. In fact, the portion of felt hidden by the wall was a mirror image of the portion left visible; to show one side or another of this reversible work would be the same. And the artist does not exclude the future possibility of unfolding the works, exposing their entire length, so that the pattern would be reproduced in mirror fashion.

Two freestanding sculptures, Hansa Paolo (all works 2016) and Hansa-Femme à la fleur (Hansa-Woman with a Flower), broke with the feeling of symmetry in the three works on the wall (all Untitled). As is typical of Ding’s work, the sculptures integrate two- and three-dimensional geometric elements. But their minimalist design hides an anthropometric reference: The artist created the concrete slabs using her own body as a unit of measure. Their dynamic tension took the form of wooden sticks that traversed and also united the two slabs. The decorations placed on one side of each sculpture were also discrete, with motifs taken from Paolo Soleri’s “arcology,” a synthesis of architecture and ecology, and from a collage by Le Corbusier, Femme lisant, 1936.

“B.O.D.I.E.S.” immersed viewers in a world apart, soundless, almost cocoon-like, thanks to the properties of the felt. Without abandoning the abstract and formal language of precursors such as El Lissitzky’s Proun Room, 1923, through the use of felt, plant-derived fabrics, and combustion, the installation reconsidered the utopian totality, suspended between architecture, painting, and sculpture, to which such works aspired. A new biological synthesis was achieved, embodied perhaps in the pungent odor of burned wool that struck viewers as soon as they entered the show.

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.