Derry-Londonderry

View of “Aleana Egan,” 2022. From left: Dress for Marion, 2021; be forgiving! change roles, 2007. Photo: Simon Mills.

View of “Aleana Egan,” 2022. From left: Dress for Marion, 2021; be forgiving! change roles, 2007. Photo: Simon Mills.

Aleana Egan

VOID

Aleana Egan’s recent exhibition “Sampler” gathered ten works, including sculptural pieces made between 2007 and 2021 and two new paintings created during the pandemic. Not quite among the latter was panel (sand), 2021, a large bare linen canvas bisected by a cotton café curtain, which hung suspended in the storefront window of Void’s new premises, hinting at the private, almost insular romance unfolding inside. The exhibition was a kind of tour de toile and a material journey around the galleries, leading us from thread to fabric to costume to curtain to bandages to dust, articulating steps between painting and sculpture and most often coming to rest somewhere between the two.

Egan’s sculptural wall works recall Minimalism. With something of the pitched quality of Robert Morris’s large-scale felt works, Richard Serra’s Belts, 1966–67, or Rosemary Mayer’s fabric wall sculptures, these two-and-a-half-dimensional straps, hanging like skinny arms or deflated fire hoses, gesture in low relief toward some underdeveloped alphabet or tongue. Formed of thin, plaster-bandage-wrapped card, repeating earth and made boats, both 2017, were white and dyed burnt sienna and blue denim. The more recent returns and sound clips, both 2021, introduced some dandyish elements. Returns sprouts tufts of red seaweed and fishing net at the ends of its bandaged extremities, with tiny washed-out scarlet silk handkerchiefs hooked or pinned to the corners.

As in the nineteenth-century literature that the artist admires so much, the spirit of l’art pour l’art loomed over the exhibition. The sweet little painting nature had an inside, 2021, depicted the corner of another painting, edged in bright blue. The work is entirely internal, self-contained, yet it’s also a sampler of a sort, bearing traces of absorbed watercolors and gouache as well as oil paint on its unprimed surface. Another painting, ray-shaped darts, 2021, depicted close-ups of the dressmaking pleats typically used in the making of frocks, like that in Dress for Marion, 2021, also in the back gallery. Hung on the wall in a protective sheath, an everyday sort of dress from a Berlin vintage-clothing archive was named for one of the artist’s many writer heroines, midcentury British psychoanalyst Marion Milner. Next to it, the exhibition’s earliest piece, be forgiving! change roles, 2007, a small, blue-painted teardrop-shaped metal wall work, looked harder, less organic than its more recent neighbors. On the floor, taking up most of the space in the back gallery, memory shape, 2021, framed and identified studio sweepings, cellulose fibers, scraps of scarlet muslin, jute, and fluffy debris, as a material history of the show’s creation.

These inconclusive works don’t wear their politics on their sleeve, but “Sampler” certainly fell under Void’s astute curatorial program, which often draws connections between the civil rights movements in Northern Ireland and in the United States. Like the work of Mayer, Morris, or Serra, among other Minimalists who settled in the derelict manufacturing spaces of SoHo and took their detritus as material, Egan’s exhibition, with its focus on fabric and linen in particular, drew attention to a similar industry and decline in Derry-Londonderry. Void itself was previously situated in an old shirt-making factory until its move during the pandemic. Linen is of preeminent importance in the history of this region; nearby Belfast was nicknamed the “linenopolis” of the eighteenth century. As the factories closed, growing unemployment, poverty, and targeted disenfranchisement led to civil unrest. Linen may be understood in Derry-Londonderry not as something private or individual, then, but as a material that’s shared, political, and instrumental: a social fabric, as it were. “Sampler” opened just before the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a catalytic event in the modern history of the North, after which the civil rights movement devolved into occupation and paramilitary violence for almost thirty years. In this charged context, Egan’s exhibition gave a lasting impression of the balance and fragile articulation of something as delicate as peace.