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Thursday, October 04, 2012

Refusing to be boxed in

Giampietro Gallery—Works of Art
315 Peck St., New Haven, (203) 777-7760
Linda Lindroth: Trickster in Flatland

Surface and not surface. Depth and depthlessness. Reality and illusion. Historicity and timelessness. Representation and abstraction.

Photographer Linda Lindroth is engaged in serious play in her show Trickster in Flatland, which just closed at the Giampietro Gallery in New Haven. Exhibiting 17 large images, all but a half dozen of which were made in the last two years, Lindroth disassembles a material reality to reassemble her own aesthetic vision.

In the literal sense, most of these photographs are of old cardboard boxes used to hold commercial products. Mundane, no? The corners of the boxes have either come part on their own—as is wont to happen with these types of objects over time—or been torn open by Lindroth herself. Stripped of their three-dimensionality, they are splayed open like mounted butterflies, a geometricity of flat processed color, torn edges, striking diagonals, worn surfaces, yellowed tape and brittle glue.

So the answer to the question "Mundane, no?" is "No." Somehow, these images are compelling rather than mundane. They are compelling because Lindroth sees in these objects all sorts of allusions—mostly but not only of an art historical nature—and has the photographic chops to convey her excitement about them and interpretation of them.

I noted before that they are "stripped of their three-dimensionality." That's true in the sense that the boxes have been deconstructed to lie flat. And, by the nature of being a photographic print, that flatness is—in a physical sense—absolute. But Lindroth's photography captures the not-flatness of that flatness—the layering of the different planes of folded cardboard, the sense of the material's thickness, the flare of shadows around the edges where the mounted object curls up from its white background.

This illusion of tactile presence particularly invited the touch—but don't touch!—in "Howard 2," which depicts the inside of a shallow square box with aquamarine flaps. There is a wealth of visual information to process in this deceptively simple image. The ink is peeling off the flaps like bark on a birch tree. The inner square is smeared with a thick framing of dried, cracked mucilage glue, the color of which morphs from a pale mustard yellow to a dark caramel. It is one of the few images that hints at actual human touch rather than mechanical creation. The swirl of glue is a gestural brush mark communicating the brisk movement of a human hand.

There is sly humor in "Automatic Drawing," which pairs the inside top and bottom pieces of an old box of pastels. The long-term jostling of the colored sticks created two complementary abstract "drawings"—the one on the left spare and subtle, the one on the right a profusion of layered marks. What is noticeable in do many of the images are the details—the mottled discoloration of the cardboard, the scruffy grit of time, the frayed fibers around the tears, the kinked edges. There are some interesting found color juxtapositions—a bold vertical of blue amid surroundings of beige, yellow and washed-out orange in "Le Contact"; the industrial gray hidden beneath the neon pink in "Elsa (Pink Schiaparelli Box)."

As Lindroth notes in some of her statements on the show, she sees in many of these images evocations of the work of prominent Modernist painters—Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Motherwell, among others. (Some of these allusions are suggested by their titles; "Howard 2," for example, refers to the British painter Howard Hodgkin.)

For my part, I see not just allusion but also meta-commentary—that the boundaries between abstraction and representation, between the throwaway object and the objet d'art, between surface and depth, between the past and the present are not fixed. The boxes into which we pack our preconceptions can be broken open and that is what Lindroth has done.

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