Ghent

View of “N. Dash,” 2022. From left, Untitled, 2021; Untitled, 2022.

View of “N. Dash,” 2022. From left, Untitled, 2021; Untitled, 2022.

N. Dash

In “earth,” her first solo museum presentation in Europe, New York–based artist N. Dash continues to find room for innovation within a set of terms she established more than a decade ago. She still uses what could be considered common materials, such as jute, mud, and string, and over time has added more blatantly industrially produced detritus to her inventory: agricultural netting and plastic bottles, for example. But the earth referenced in the exhibition title is a constant, often used as a ground to which the artist sometimes adds pigments drawn from a palette composed of neutral whites, silvers, blacks, and earth tones, with occasional vibrant injections, such as mint green, cerulean, pink, or orange. Or she might silk-screen over the earthen ground, perhaps with an image of one of her diminutive kneaded fabric sculptures, or with the rosette-like shapes that make up the halftone grid used in commercial printing.

Dash composes her works—which are usually Untitled—using discrete units, never disturbing the integrity of a given unit. For example, she might tessellate or layer panels, but she does not compose within them, except by using anti-compositional devices such as chance and symmetry. The closest she comes to composition is when she divides certain panels using string, which often sits under an outer layer of earth or pigment and is sometimes lifted out of the earthen layer to leave an imprint in it. This allows her to subdivide a panel into component parts that can themselves be treated as discrete elements.

We assume, consciously or not, two primary viewing positions vis-à-vis Dash’s work: from nearby, where her rich vocabulary of materials is fully manifested, and from a distance, where compositional elements take precedence. Coming nearer, we perceive her materialist attention to surfaces, noticing effects such as the puckering of pigment or the tautness of an embedded length of string. What, in certain works, might initially appear to be traces of predetermined decision-making are actually side effects of process and materials, which Dash allows to happen in carefully controlled ways—for example, the draping of a bolt of painted canvas, or the way a piece of Styrofoam both links and holds apart two panels.

Despite this richness of detail, Dash’s works make a strong gestalt impact when viewed from a distance at which the underlying painterly logic reveals itself. For example, in one work from 2021, a light-blue panel is placed high up on the wall, and it is only when we move in closer that we perceive the skeins of string that are suspended from the panel, attached to what appears to be a paint-spattered broom handle on the floor, as if salvaged from regular use in the artist’s studio. The immediate visual impact of the blue monochrome panel is nuanced by the material play of gravity and appropriated materials that we see only from up close.

This kind of formal play has charged undertones in our time. The subjection of the natural world to the present economy of images transposes materials into essentially aesthetic contexts. By presenting unprocessed matter such as earth and graphite alongside manufactured items of daily use, such as plastic bottles and pieces of Styrofoam, Dash calls attention to this situation without pretending to resolve it. The introspective and critical space of painting, which has often functioned to transform materials into images, provides the perfect ground for such effects.