by Mark Van Proyen
There are many aspects to Ana Teresa Fernández’s current exhibition of 15 works dating from 2016 to 2022. Chief among them are ominous signs of murderous exclusion conjured at two fraught borders. One is the fence separating Mexico and the United States at a desolate stretch of beach near Tijuana. The other is the Mediterranean Sea, whose murky depths hundreds of lives have been lost in the effort to find safety from the depredations of war. Fernandez addresses these topics through video, digital photography, sculpture and painting.
The seedbed for several works is a pair of single-channel videos titled Formed in Fiction, showing a statuesque woman clad in a black cocktail dress with matching stiletto heels. In slow, hypnotic motion, she manipulates a mylar survival blanket at a beach adjacent to the tall plank fence that demarcates the border between California and Mexico. Each of these scenes is captured on opposite sides of the fence, appearing as mirrored reflections of the same place, minus jurisdictional considerations. At various junctures, the blanket reflects or refracts the light in the manner of a disco ball, distracting attention from the cloaked woman to the surrounding landscape.
It bears mentioning that the above-referenced figure is the artist adopting a performance persona, prompting us to think of her as a kind of anonymous everywoman, balancing visibility and invisibility with glamour and drudgery in a liminal space of contested and confusing jurisdictions — an observation that applies to about half of the works in the exhibition, including three pigment prints collectively titled Erasing the Border (Numbers 1,2 and 3). All began as screen captures from Erasing the Border, another video showing the artist painting a section of wall in a blue-grey that makes the slats seem to disappear into the foggy marine layer. Two large oil paintings, On the Line and From Within, Without You, take their representational cues from the videos mentioned above, no doubt because they also evolved from screen captures. Both feature stunning painterly fantasies animating how the mylar blankets are painted. The effect is mesmerizing.
Two other videos, Siren’s Shadow and Drawn Below, are shown in a darkened screening room. The first is a single-channel projection that looks like 2-channels. It offers inverse views of a woman swimming in a loose gown, presumably the artist, moving toward and away from the center of the picture space. Because she is shot from an underwater vantage, she is silhouetted against the light source at the surface, making her movements seem like a dream memory, maybe a final one. The second also shows a woman swimming in loose clothing. It’s darker and more fraught, suggesting a struggle for buoyancy. Anyone who has been knocked over by a large wave can relate to such an experience, but the final scene tells us something more: it reminds us of the many desperate lives lost in the Mediterranean a few years ago when dangerous crossings were attempted by people fleeing Syria and Libya. Another painting related to the videos, Of Bodies and Borders 7, a fantasy about a figure cast into dark depths, portrays the figure as a luminescent, protoplasmic apparition set against a flat black background.
Five three-dimensional works round out the exhibition and complicate the plotlines established by the two-dimensional works. This assessment presumes a thematic relationship, even though there is no reason beyond their proximity to assume one. Espina(2016), an eight-foot step ladder perched atop the unstable undercarriage of a rocking chair, makes a wry statement about the fluctuating foundations of lofty ambitions. Untitled (of Bodies and Borders) is a collection of about 28 cement rowing oars of various lengths, their grey surfaces creating the impression that they’d been underwater for decades. They prompt the obvious inference of an instrument of escape turning into a weighty and counterproductive burden.
Circular configurations of slatted wood are also visible in Matter of Perspective and Matter of Perspective Two. The first is a freestanding work formed from over a dozen wooden disks of about 20 inches in diameter, fancifully stacked like gaming chips or I Ching coins. The latter hangs from the ceiling, using fewer of the same discs in a less complicated configuration. The discs themselves are formed of three layers sandwiched together, with the two outer wooden layers slated in such a way to reveal dark plastic middle layers, obliquely suggesting the slatted border fence featured in some of the other works.
This diverse presentation finds its unifying factor in a kind of elegiac lyricism that both belies and accentuates the ominous connotations conveyed by most of the works. There is no didactic hectoring here, but there is much to feel in terms of sorrow, hope and an appreciation for those whose struggles are far greater than we can imagine. And from such sorrow and hope, a comforting beauty emerges.
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Ana Teresa Fernández: “At the Edge of Distance” @ Catharine Clark Gallery to September 3, 2022.
About the author: Mark Van Proyen’s visual work and written commentaries emphasize the tragic consequences of blind faith in economies of narcissistic reward. Since 2003, he has been a corresponding editor for Art in America. His recent publications include: Facing Innocence: The Art of Gottfried Helnwein (2011) and Cirian Logic and the Painting of Preconstruction (2010). To learn more about Mark Van Proyen, read Alex Mak’s interview on Broke-Ass Stuart’s website.