by David M. Roth
Drawing in space may be a tired metaphor for sculpture, but that, quite literally, is what Linda Fleming does for a living. The Bay Area artist, who divides her time between studios in Benicia and Colorado, creates spiky see-through structures assembled from powder-coated sections of laser-cut steel. The chest-high shapes, held together by big chrome bolts, are packed with sinuous, labyrinthine forms, each of which displaces a mirror image of itself in negative space. The seamless merger of the two prompts gut-level questions about the nature of matter and space, interior and exterior.
Three such works, named for movements of the sun, anchor her current show, Aerious. Like the artist’s prior exhibition in this space, Evanescent (2013), this one also includes drawings, 2-D wall sculptures and maquettes. Combined, they lay out the conceptual underpinnings of the artist’s practice. It’s a mix of lyrical abstraction, inspired by the artist’s inquiries into particle
physics and string theory; muscular geometry, stemming from her early association, in New
York, with Mark di Suvero; and hippie utopianism, encountered after she moved, part-time, to Colorado in 1968.
The 2-D works lean toward bold geometry, and in so doing light up large swaths of art history, from Suprematism and Finish Fetish to Post-Painterly Abstraction and Minimalism. Their interlocked shapes give off a laser-like energy that the denser, infinitely more detailed floor pieces, for all their sharp exterior edges, do not. The all-chrome Flash, for example, with its thunderbolt-like protrusions, practically cries out for action-comic text bubbles (Shazam! Thwack! Kapow!), while Lightning Cloud, the largest, most evocative of the five wall pieces on view, seems, with its intertwining curves and hard-edged lines, to both wriggle and float. It’s based on observations of atmospheric conditions in Colorado near a commune where the artist once lived. The contours of that landscape and the aesthetic character of those settlements, which were once dotted with geodesic domes, permeate Fleming’s work.
Each of the floor-mounted sculptures, for example, contains within its bounds an exact replica of
itself. Meaning, every section you see has bolted to it, a complementary interior shape that is a perfect double of what’s on the outside. These “mirror” forms are painted in contrasting (and sometimes close-value) colors, emphasizing their sameness, difference, and, most of all, their reliance on each other for definition and physical support. So instead of merely defining objects and voids, as Richard Serra might, these sculptures demonstrate how two versions of an object coexist in the exact same space. To this Fleming adds yet another twist: the insertion into those objects of cavernous negative spaces into which you can poke your head. Architects talk a lot these days about bringing the outside indoors. Fleming, by inviting physical entry into her sculptures, performs that feat — literally.
Yet for all the evidence of integrative thinking on view, we can also detect profound differences between the various parts of her practice. Where the 2-D pieces project power and certitude, the 3-D works stand squarely in the postmodern camp, suggesting endless mutability, the true nature of which can only be approximated through rigorous acts of triangulation. Physically and intellectually that is what these works demand of viewers. Yet when you attempt to heed those demands, you feel as if you’ve been drawn into a serpentine riddle. No doubt, that is what a lot of us feel when trying to comprehend the astrophysical concepts driving Fleming’s work.
Here, it’s useful to consider as a guidepost BAMPFA’s masterpiece of an exhibition, Architecture of Life. In it, Director Larry Rinder brought together samples from every realm of human activity (art, religion, biology, botany, architecture, textiles, astronomy, map making) to show the interrelatedness of all things. Fleming, by pursuing a similar line of thinking, demonstrates, yet again, how certain patterns embedded in human consciousness appear to be replicated across time and throughout the universe.
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Linda Fleming: “Aerious” @ Brian Gross Fine Art through April 29, 2017.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecylinder.