It is always wonderful to run into a body of work which is well executed and corresponds to one’s own sensibilities, but sometimes it is even more interesting to run into a body of work which is well done but so far removed from one’s own concerns that the reason for its existence appears incomprehensible. It is this sort of work which makes one think and work a bit harder.
Jeannie Thib is an extremely well-respected artist from Canada who has exhibited around the world and, of course, widely in her own country. She was invited to show at INBA in Juarez as part of the 3rd Chihuahua festival which has been going on all month to the delight of Juarenses and amid nearly total ignorance of the majority of El Pasoans. This show was sponsored by the Canadian embassy in Mexico, the State of Chihuahua as well as INBA art museum.
In her show entitled Glifo: Diseno, Naturaleza y Fragmento, Thib reveals her fascination with patterns and repetition and their reasons for being.
In this case, she uses Victorian patterns and designs which themselves reference designs from the Middle Ages as well as from other countries to explore the issue of language, nature and signs and symbols.
Among the reasons given for the Victorians love of repeating decorative pattern is that it was a way of keeping nature at bay. The Victorians, it is thought, had a horror of nature. Actually I thought the Victorians had a horror of the untamed, the unordered, whether a wild animal or a child. In any case, in her piece “Divide” Thib has deconstructed Victorian designs into 120 components which she has recreated from felt and carefully attached to the wall. The result from afar resembles a wall resembling some sort of alphabet or language while closer examination reveals that each piece is some form from nature. She is thus trying to play with civilization and its relation to nature.
As some of you might have already surmised from other posts of mine the word deconstruction has become something of a red flag for me. The well-known critic Clement Greenberg apparently waged something of a holy war against narrative in art, and I am becoming ready to pick up some sort of flag to lead a return to allowing if not narrative at least other types of artistic examinations than currently seem favored by Universities, etc. Thib pointed out rightly that she was not simply deconstructing, but also putting back together to form something new.
In her piece “Archive” she combines Victorian ornamentation and body parts which she then combines and prints in a complex process onto special paper creating something that looks like a hennaed or deeply tattoed leg or arm. In the catalogue for the show it says “El ornamento creado a partir de la union entre el orden, la naturaleza y los signos dan como resultado un ambiente. Les piezas tridimensionales constituyen estructuras que dan pie a una nueva arquitectura artistica.” (The ornamentation created from the union between order, nature a signs give as a result an ambience. The three dimensional pieces constitute structures which give way to a new artistic architecture.)
So what we appear to have on the walls are decoration inspired by Victorian overall design; what we actually have is a subtle play between civilization and nature as well as a bringing of the ancient forward into the present with new/old forms. There are several separate works exploring these themes in different ways.
I have to confess that when I saw this show a few hours before the actual opening, I had to read the statements which were written both in English and Spanish several times with varying success.
There are perhaps patterns here in the desert, but in general it is much cleaner-more minimalist than some other places, and it doesn’t naturally lead to thoughts of reasons for Victorian patterning, so it was a little hard for me to fully understand what it was she was doing. She was more than generous with her time in trying to get through my thick skull what it was she was exploring and why. Precisely because this feels a bit like foreign territory, I have tried to explain intention. Particularly a show like this requires understanding of basis, though in any case a trip for oneself is always preferable to another’s notes.
I would just like to add that INBA and other official bodies are to be commended for bringing Jeannie Thib to Juarez so we can see what other artists from completely different environments are doing and where in addition to her own explorations of the city she was able to teach a few classes.-David Sokolec