When I first encountered Karen Reimer’s work at gallery 400 in Chicago I was struck by the way she naturally fuses two seemingly incompatible discourses in art: minimalism and (meticulously labored) craft. The latter in and of itself raises several red flags across the panoply of Art Theory and Criticisms. The work thus walks a fragile line between geometrical abstraction and material poetics, with one foot on the ground and the other one in the outer space. Her meticulously handcrafted pieces not only carefully synthesize the body-mind dichotomy—in precise logical order—but also handle this with a great sense of aesthetic sensibility. The lure of Reimer’s work is that it seduces your mind by offering a multiplicity of conceptual entry points. Whereas in the works I had encountered at gallery 400 there was an ongoing negotiation between the domestic space and abstraction, in her most recent show, titled Geometry in Outer Space or Heaven, the dialog between gallery space and picture plane is organized in an entirely new economy. There are no remnants of domesticity; the fabric fragments have become what could be read as functions of abstractions as if the work had organically transformed itself onto its next existential level of complexity. Her conceptual approach obviously still follows the thread of her earlier works, yet is seems to have shed its skin in an act of renewal.
2014, Collaged paper, fabric, gold leaf, 23 5/16 x 27 7/8 inches.
I cannot help but think of attachment and belonging in all these multiplicities, literally and metaphorically. Whether this means a line creating an abstract illusion that oscillates between the interior or the exterior space of a cube, or hexahedron, or whether a piece of fabric reorganizes the geometry and spatial depth of field of geometric shapes, simultaneoulsy attaching and detaching itself. It is precisely in these tensions that her work sparks and ruptures. Interestingly, most of the textile fragments depict square and checks, or other linear patterns as if they adapted the language of geometry long before blending into hexagonal structures. Another captivating example is a U-shaped strip of wood that barely rests on the edge of a picture frame. It keeps the compositional balance of what it has attached itself to, while it threatens to fall off in the same breath, evoking this kind of disquiet that emerges from the idea that the one can not exist without the other. Here, a painted red triangle in the wood strip’s lower corner is pointing downward, while its hypotenuse extends the frame’s edge.
It is in these syntheses that the work proposes to occupy the overlapping space in a Venn diagram. In that superimposed conceptual in-between space new truths emerge (if I dare use such a big word here). Two elements fuse into one, changing one another into a portmanteau. The notion of attachment and belonging also reminisces of Goethe’s analogy to chemistry and the laws of attraction, in his novel Elective Affinities. He explains how different elements meet and affect each other, or leave one another indifferent. However, Goethe suggests that there is this special kind of species, who once they meet devour one another, leaving their original properties behind and instead transform into an entirely new singular entity, like limestone for instance.
TOP: Geometry in Outer Space or Heaven #18, 2015. Collaged paper, graphite,fabric, gold leaf, 30 3/8 x 41 7/8 inches.
In her earlier works this fusion—of possible complementaries, growing-into-and-out-of one another, while extending each other either by minuscule increments or giant leaps—happens in form of floral patterns which morph into the abstract realms of primary numbers and the golden ratio. One of the strengths of Reimer’s works is their ability to attach, not only in and on themselves, or quite literally, to the white cube space they are inhabiting, but they also cling to your mind and keep lingering, like an after image, long after you have left the gallery space, proposing an irresolvable mathematical problem. It is this line that constantly oscillates between luring your gaze into its inner space only to push you back onto its exterior plane once you have locked your mind on it. Once we begin to follow these lines, or proposals rather, there is no end point. A trap in a way, as we are captured in closed systems. Except in this one piece, in which parts of the inner/outer structure has been erased, suggesting an indecisive territory, open to an infinite number of new possibilities.
In a strange way, these polyhedrons also remind me of Gregg Bordowitz’s talk Testing some beliefs which I recently watched on YouTube. Bordowitz refers to William James’s concept of the mind being a many-sided object. He explains how this polyhedron is pushed to rest on a different facet of its body after intense emotional experiences. In doing so, it doesn’t change the substance of the mind but rather it changes or shifts the perspective, or pivot, of the viewer’s orientation to the world around her or him. It follows then that the compelling imperfect beauty of Karen Reimer’s work lies in the polyhedron’s shift of perceptual perspectives, without actually physically moving on the picture plane: A trick that your mind plays on you while looking. If you don’t pause to contemplate, however, you likely might miss that crucial detail.