Paris

Cathryn Boch, untitled, 2016, comprising ten untitled works, all 2016, mixed media, 10' 9 1/8“ × 18' 10 3/4”. Photo: Jean-Christophe Lett.

Cathryn Boch, untitled, 2016, comprising ten untitled works, all 2016, mixed media, 10' 9 1/8“ × 18' 10 3/4”. Photo: Jean-Christophe Lett.

Cathryn Boch

Galerie Papillon

Cathryn Boch, untitled, 2016, comprising ten untitled works, all 2016, mixed media, 10' 9 1/8“ × 18' 10 3/4”. Photo: Jean-Christophe Lett.

The roar of a sewing machine, the rhythmic clicks of a bobbin changing, the flapping of sheets of paper, and the artist’s focused breath were audible through a single pair of headphones at the center of Cathryn Boch’s recent exhibition “monades.” Played on a loop, this digital recording, Atelier 50’ (all works 2016), documents the soundscape of Boch’s actions and hesitations as she manipulates maritime maps, atlas pages, aerial photographs, paper, and thread. While the title of this sound work attests to its location and duration, all other pieces were left untitled. And each was pinned to the wall, except one, which the artist had loosely draped across a suspended metal pole, like a still life on a trapeze. For this work, the artist molded and embellished the surface of topographic and road maps, and the pale details of an aerial photograph by Matthieu Colin, with moss-green thread. Boch had also stained, and effectively disinfected, the thread she used to form the lower part of the diaphanous volume with the rust-orange liquid of the iodine antiseptic Betadine. A labor-intensive tangle of hand- and machine-sewn stitches formed a distended body whose irregular openings suggested the contours of an organic form, seemingly subject to the traumas of growth and decay.

Nearby, the details in a work made of maritime maps and atlas pages that had been cut along their orange-colored national borderlines pulled the viewer in close. With dense patches of stitching in beige thread, Boch drew together Manaus, at the heart of the Brazilian Amazon; Bādiyat Ash-shām (the Syrian Desert); and expanses of the Mediterranean Sea. The resulting proximities of this territorial amalgam thrust climatic, political, and economic disparities to the fore. A carefully charted cruise, marked in pencil through the Canal de Sardaigne, served to further distance the realities of the diverse geographies that Boch chose to knit together.

Across the gallery’s back wall, ten unique works were grouped to form an imposing panorama. Although the maritime charts, road maps, and atlas pages that composed the surfaces of these works were drenched in dark gouache and india ink, their edges eroded and reshaped with dark blue and black thread, sites in and around the Mediterranean remained visible. Seemingly adrift on this dark expanse, the lone human figure depicted was a small drawing of a faceless female nude, one of her legs cleanly sliced off just below the hip. Cuts, disinfectant, and stitches: Boch’s gestures are both violent and reparative. Sewing, as the artist explains, “allows me to be in front as well as behind, or to go through. . . . The sewing machine is a paradoxical tool. It tears paper at the same time as it repairs it with stitches.” Each of her works is at once an open wound and a healed scar.

Boch’s artistic practice is grounded in drawing: pencil, chalk, and crayon on paper. She started sewing, as her grandmother used to do, in 2006 while on a residency in Lithuania. With this material shift, she seems to be questioning not only the graphic language of national and regional territories, but the terrain of the work of art itself. Born and raised in Strasbourg, on France’s border with Germany, and now based in Marseille, on the western banks of the Mediterranean, Boch is intimately familiar with the negotiation of territory (cultural, linguistic, political, and religious). In her hands, territory becomes flesh: beautiful and violable.

Lillian Davies