In two side-by-side solo exhibitions by artists Lucas Simões and Dianna Frid, both currently on view at PATRON gallery, the artists appear to pursue possibilities of meaning via symbolic pluralism; however, each artist could stand to learn from the approach of the other. In Luscofusco, Lucas Simões employs the metaphoric notion of twilight, positioned as the moment when light “shifts from presence to absence,” to examine persistent symbols recurrent throughout architectural history and their subsequent phenomenological shifts within unstable temporal contexts. In pre-knowing / un-knowing, Dianna Frid abandons linguistic text in its nominal sense, instead returning in her embroidered canvases to repeating patterns that form a material foundation for legibility – the marks made by the plunging and reemerging of the needle echo the repeating geometric shapes and fragments of Roman characters, allowing pattern itself to suspend the direct relationship between symbol and text. For both artists however, adherence to a dualistic approach to symbol and material, whether limited to form in the work of Simões or “text” in that of Frid, forms an impediment, preventing either from approaching the multiplicitous possibility they seek.
Light-filled and pristine, the first of three gallery rooms dedicated to the exhibition introduces the viewer to the sleek, neatly-honed industrial vocabulary that characterizes Simões’ work. Dormentes n.2 (2023) extends with precision—two hollow, wormlike galvanized steel ducts nestle within each other, one piece resting gently on the gallery floor while the other counterbalances, suspended neatly by a blue rope and pulley system. The largest work in the show, Dormentes n.2 corresponds formally and serially to smaller wall-hung works of pastel-colored cast concrete poised upon carbon steel armatures, suggesting that the galvanized steel ducts of Dormentes n.2 (and the other two similarly constructed works in the exhibition, Dormente n. 19 and Dormente n. 20, both 2023) at one time perhaps served as molds for the cast concrete pieces. An interesting design problem, this raises a question of temporal indeterminacy. Is the shape of the concrete works determined by the need to balance the galvanized steel pieces, or were the galvanized steel pieces designed with the concrete works and the relationship to their armatures in mind (or both)?
In the third and final set of works in the exhibition, the pigmented concrete pushes through openings in thin, wall-mounted sheets of carbon steel, endowing the concrete with a bulbous, dripping form. Interestingly, this abandonment of the casting process points to the potential for visual slippages related to duration within the studio process. Indeed, as the works in the exhibition are experienced primarily through sight, the material (the object itself) is separated from the non-material (our observations of the object) only by context. Bulbous shapes seem to have been dripped. Heavy concrete forms are draped to counterbalance their armatures, though they appear lightweight. Curved steel and concrete are imagined to correspond by steps of the fabrication process through similarity in shape. That is to say, the visual nature of the exhibition format renders the material properties of the work themselves symbolic.
In the rear gallery, two tapestry-like works by Dianna Frid hang among the patterning of exposed brick walls, while on an adjacent wall, individual hand-colored graphite squares form the tilework upon which a small framed drawing is mounted. The large wall-hung drawings, Weave (2015) and We Have No Word in English For This (2021), catch the light in patterns as their regimented aluminum squares reflect different values depending upon the angle, broken up only where intercepted by other materials: embroidery floss, paper, paint. Embroidered fragments of serif characters appear with regular frequency, changing colors when overlapped at Venn Diagram-like intersections. Together, the overall syntax of these quilted collages unsettles figure and ground, rhythmically interrupting planar relationships while stymying any legibility of written word–though phonemes at times remain present. If Simões prods the instability of meaning through a sense of temporal unreliability, then Frid can be said to pursue an unsettling of a constructed symbolic order via spatial collapse. Weave, We Have, and then We’ve.
Ultimately, however, while each of the projects begins to wrestle with questions of interpretation and knowing, both succumb to a reciprocal fatal flaw: the works offer an illusion of instability while remaining entirely stable in accordance with their own parameters. Even when pushing back against legibility, both sets of work seem to reaffirm a Modernist dichotomy between symbol and material, or ornament and utility–deferring to them as oppositions, rather than using them to make room for the emergence of something else. To use the gallery materials in order to underscore this point (though certainly not to suggest that they be taken as an authority themselves), it is worth noting that the accompanying writing is full of allegorical references that are inaccessible to the viewer via the experience of the work alone: allusions to the color palettes of Pompeiian frescoes and Otium houses in Simões, or the revelation of the original sources of the embroidered texts (a cultural scholar’s New York Times obituary) in Frid. While the unrecognizability of these references within the work might confirm the arbitrariness of symbolic signification, or at least, the way the meanings of symbols are lost or fragmented over time (even from the artist’s studio to the gallery), without an hermeneutic read of the work, the projects remain insular–self-referential, closed vocabularies that are complete and systematically designed. In other words, the key is not to interrupt the symbolic to point to material, but to recognize that the symbolic is already material, and to seek areas for further transformation. Perhaps a simple starting place for such an opening up of the work could be to read both exhibitions together in order to begin loosening the terms for possibility.
Dianna Frid: pre-knowing / un-knowing and Lucas Simões: Luscofusco are on view at Patron from June 3 to August 19, 2023.
About the Writer: Barbarita Polster is an artist, writer, and Ph.D. student in Comparative Literary Studies at Northwestern University. Her area of research emphasis spans global avant-garde and modernist literatures, with particular concentration in Caribbean and Latin American visual and literary culture. Solo exhibitions and performances of her studio work include: The Ohio State University at Lima (forthcoming fall 2023), Critical Practices, Inc. (NYC), GLASSBOX (Seattle), and William Busta Gallery (Cleveland). In addition, she has participated in numerous group exhibitions, including exhibitions with Carrie Secrist Gallery (Chicago), ACRE (Chicago), Field Projects (NYC), Punch Gallery (Seattle), AIR Gallery (Brooklyn), and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Recent written contributions include essays in the Brooklyn Rail, Wrong Life Review, and Shifter. Since 2019, she has served as faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.