Central Features Contemporary Art, Albuquerque
March 13 – May 19, 2018
The term shibui refers to a particular aesthetic in Japanese art, and it can mean a variety of things that are like spokes on a wheel organized around a central core of perceptions: simplicity, unobtrusive beauty, a spare elegance, and implicity. This last word, implicity, pertains to a depth of feeling that can arise through the perception of beauty as a form of understatement, a complexity hidden within a dimension of thoughtful procedures that do not blatantly advertise themselves. How exquisite the concept of shibui is, and one can track its essence in Jane Lackey’s recent body of work.
Initially, one might think of the mixed-media pieces in Shifting Pulse as aspects of mechanically rendered code delineating unknown systems. Does this work represent a translation of, for example, population densities? Or are these images mathematical readouts of cellular activities, weather patterns, or some other kind of demographic visualization—everything visualized as points of data? A great many questions are raised about what these gridded, highly organized, yet unfathomable patterns represent. And you might even think this work is a form of computer-based linear lacemaking in keeping with a world increasingly defined by algorithmic coding. However, closer inspection reveals that the pieces are not at all mechanically perfect, and something else is revealed, too: the hand of the artist as a keeper of the keys to the imperfect nature of perfection—shibui in action. The work in this series is philosophically resonant and visually mesmerizing, with systems not as closed loops of self-referentiality, but open-ended clouds of positive and negative spaces, pulling the viewer ever deeper into Lackey’s infinite arc of artistic choices.
In regards to the work in Shifting Pulse, Lackey’s process is too complex for me to attempt a sensible description of it. In the end, I felt an objective explanation would impact my evocation of the spare elegance that the artist achieves through a labor-intensive series of steps involving small sticky labels, translucent kozo paper as a ground, seemingly endless hand-cut “cells,” and her matrix of hand-painted horizontal and vertical lines that constitute a grid. There is also the occasional passage of hand-stitched threaded lines so subtly integrated you might think they are a mistake—like dangling signifiers unanchored to the whole. I myself wished there had been more of the threaded lines, because these sections, small as they are, almost subliminal, constitute one more variant that defies explanation, except to say the lines seem to tie into Lackey’s history as a textile artist—the thread as a reminder, not only of her artistic roots, but also suggesting the primary basis of all textile activity: simple stitches connecting one piece of material to another as in the making and repairing of prehistoric garments and shelters. After that comes the evolution of all textiles and eventually modern art’s reverence for the grid.
Some of the pieces, like Friction 1 and Friction 2, are hung away from the gallery wall—but not by much. Enough for the slightly irregular grids to cast delicate shadows, and the slightest movement of air causes the kozo paper to gently drift forward and back as if the paper were breathing. So, as mechanical as Lackey’s images might at first appear, they are alive with responses to air currents and the artist’s own hand gestures in the act of painting, cutting, or stitching. Although her palette is primarily black and white, there are shades of gray, as well as the blue and violet thread, subtle as it is, in the pieces Flux 1 and Flux 2.
Lackey is a consummate master of her techniques and the passion behind her aesthetic choices. Even though it might seem that nothing is left to chance in the making of this work, the opposite is true. The artist’s unwavering commitment to her studio practice has given birth to images that provide rare perceptual experiences manifesting from an invisible core of meaning and that change with each encounter.