READ NO READ: Organized by Lisa Williamson: Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, Los Angeles

July 23 - September 10, 2022
Installation Views
Press release
Sarah Conaway
Sid M. Duenas
Merideth Hillbrand
Nicole Miller
Ragen Moss
Chadwick Rantanen
Rosha Yaghmai

READ NO READ brings together the work of seven artists based in Southern California. The artists and the respective artworks presented in this exhibition, while distinct from one another, share a layered approach to language and a concentrated relationship to form. Whether an object, an image, a text, or an amalgamation, the ways in which artists choose to articulate or obfuscate carries meaning — it has weight.

Artworks are strange containers, forms authored by the artist to convey some thing or idea, while also maintaining a certain resistance. This negotiation between visibility and concealment, between what is legible and what is left intentionally obtuse, is perhaps one reason that art remains such an infinite and compelling read. In certain instances within this exhibition, meaning(s) rest on the surface of an artwork, worn on the sleeve of a form, while in other moments there is the embedding of intent, a language that is held on to, or in keeping with metaphor — kept close to the vest. Moving from the immediate read to the slow, from transparency to opacity, the ability for artists to construct language and to embody ideas is seismic, grounding, and vast. 

This synthesis between language and form is explicit in A Signal, 2022, a single-channel laser animation by artist and filmmaker, Nicole Miller. A Signal is a text based projection composed of three words, here, now, and bones. The work is an extraction from Miller’s recent commission and multimedia installation, A Sign, a Signal, the Circus, at the Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis in which the artist expands upon synesthesia as it relates to the Black experience within the United States. Rooted in film, Miller’s laser works are a distillation; pure light in real time that draw a line from abstraction to text — infinitely. This translation is a beacon in space, a call in repetition for what it means to be alive and to exist within a body at this present moment.

A divergent translation of space as occupied by the figure is visible in the suspended sculptures of Ragen Moss. Hero Babe, coo! kapow! and Hero Babe, bah-ba! bang bang!, both 2020, are hollow, torso-like contours formed from semi-translucent material. The sculptures, painted in a cloak of stars, are inscribed front and back with the first utterances of a child in tandem with the exclamations of comic-action. Installed as a conversant pair within the gallery, each sculpture hangs from a single wire, unfixed — as object and viewer circumnavigate one another. Utilizing lightness, enclosure, translucency, and inscription, Moss proposes an alternate approach to sculpture, one that acknowledges interiority as a latent spatial experience and prioritizes access — to look through, to look around, to look within. Through these works, Moss conveys space as a reflexive site, one that is not separate from time or humanness but is instead the embodiment of both. 

In proximity, a large eyeball sits weighted on the gallery floor as both an observer and an object to be observed. The Eyes, 2022, a sculpture by Rosha Yaghmai, reveals the artist’s preoccupation with vision and the subconscious while acting as a literal focal point within the exhibition. Night Walker, 2016 and The Drapes, 2022, are architectural abstractions that embody transmutation. Night Walker is made from slats of dark silicone to resemble a set of vertical blinds. The sculpture is a closing — a dense visual obstruction, whereas The Drapes, sliced from a fiberglass and resin coated curtain, and akin to the tendons of an eye, are an opening — a fragile dissection of opticality. Made visible through incisive acts of physical manifestation, Yaghmai's sculptures alter the registration of ordinary objects and uniquely reflect the dualities of perception. 

Sid M. Duenas coalesces location, memory, and conversation to construct a dimensional poetic language. The artist moved from Saipan to Los Angeles as a child and many of his works are informed by recollections of the island and the city, translations between CHamoru and English, and the charting of family connections. His video, GRANDMA'S NEW HANDS/TATA TRANSLATION, 2022, alternates between two sources—a conversation between the artist and his mother, in which she describes the act of gift-giving, and an historic account of his family’s land told by the artist’s grandfather. Each stanza is marked with a shift in color, pace, and intonation. This calibration is explored further in the loose leaf artist book, EDGE OF THE SEA, 2022, which in CHamoru translates as kantun tasi—a place of flux and change. In this work Duenas compresses a series of 250 short form poems into a vast collection of acronyms, built from the first letter of each word, in what the artist describes as a method of forgetting—a distancing. Through the simultaneous act of accumulation and deconstruction, Duenas articulates the complexities of voice and the spaces that are left open in the midst of translation.

Passengers, 2022, two horizontal works by Merideth Hillbrand, frame a linear sequence of inscribed aluminum discs before long, recessed mirrors. The face of each disc bears marks of use and hand, while the back, made visible through reflection, is engraved with circular text — phrasings amplified by the precise inlay of color. Inscribed in the round, Hillbrand plays with conventions of legibility through inversion and repetition. Stretching beyond each wooden structure, a scaffolding that does not contain language but rather sets it in motion, Hillbrand’s Passengers propose a continuum — a composite of language, figuration, and architecture set within an infinite feedback loop. This carries forward in a series of lamp sculptures by the artist. In these works, engraved text wraps around the perimeter of formed aluminum shades. Installed at various heights and emitting alternate tones of light, the sculptures have a biomorphic quality, fusing the poetics of function with the natural world.

Chadwick Rantanen maintains a consistent set of parameters in his series of found object relief sculptures, all titled Crux Simplex. Salvaging cutoffs of raw materials exclusively from commercial suppliers the artist composes on site assemblages in three parts — front, middle and back. Rantanen affixes the cutoffs to one another using the most reduced means of attachment and secures each sculpture to the wall with a wire and single nail. The works are installed just above human height and evoke a religious and devotional quality. With implied symmetry and a methodical structure, Rantanen’s assemblages punctuate and hold space — intense physical projections that bely their humble materials and spare economy of means.

Eternal Return(s), 2022, a diptych by Sarah Conaway, pairs two mirrored images, one in color and the other in black and white, of a still life flower arrangement set within an eye-shaped vessel. Together, these images touch on the essential and oppositional structures of photography but perhaps more importantly they convey a sublime and emotional escape. A group of photographs titled Roman numerals I - V, 2022, are shown together as an implied narrative in parts — a figure, a talisman, a boat, an archway, a flower. Invoking myth, religion, and philosophy, each image feels like a theatrical set in which cast-away materials go through an alchemical change towards new symbolism. Throughout all of her works, Conaway strikes a balance between formal photographic considerations and more conceptual or personal evocations — meanings that can potentially transform the materiality of images.

All installation images above: Photo by Jeff McLane