The act of reading takes the spotlight in Varieties of Denial, a duo show by artist Katie Kahn and writer Terri Kapsalis currently on display at A.I.R. Gallery. Each of Kahn’s drawings simultaneously obscure and draw focus to the words on the front page of a particular New York Times “Science Times.” Each of those front pages has also provided the material for a piece of short fiction by Kapsalis that hangs on the wall alongside its sister drawing.
Absorbing the exhibition during its noisy opening—infiltrated by the self-proclaimed “festive” atmosphere of the monthly DUMBO Gallery Walk—A.I.R. is housed inside a building exploding at the seams with galleries, so I was in the thick of the art-hungry crowd—I felt as if I were trying to remember something I had read a long time ago. In Kahn’s drawings everything was at a temporal distance, and a memory-fog of images and colors had fallen between the words and me. Her figures, created with pens and gouache and correction fluid and tape, react to the words: enclose them, embrace them, cradle or stare at them, swallow them, spit them back out. Words become objects that the creatures in her drawings have to grapple and live with.
Each page served as a “lexicon” for Kapsalis’ fabulist pieces, but this doesn’t feel limiting; scientific terms and the technical content of “Science Times” play the role that particles and mathematical equations play in Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.
The two worked separately, agreeing not to share work with one another until each piece was finished. So each piece is a kind of record of the individual artist’s “reading” of the page, with a shared title always drawn from one of the page headlines (“With the New York Times it’s cheating almost to use their headlines because they’re so great,” Kapsalis says) connecting the two.
Both had quite different approaches to “reading.” Kahn characterizes their two different “not ‘agendas,’ but visions” as exploring images and connecting meanings (Kahn) versus distillation (Kapsalis). Paired with Kahn’s drawings, though, Kapsalis’ writing doesn’t feel distilled in the sense of focus. With the source material right there for me to look at, obscured simultaneously by the work that Kahn and Kapsalis have done on it, I’m actively trying to follow the trail both readers blazed across the page.
During the opening, Kapsalis read selections of her pieces aloud, straight off the wall. Every few words, something would get swallowed, drowned out by the dull roar of the enthusiastic gallery-walkers (in spite of multiple shushings). Once-distilled words filtered through an even finer mesh.
A.I.R. Gallery – Katie Kahn and Terri Kapsalis Varieties of Denial – May 2nd-26th, 2013, Wed–Sun: 11am–6pm [Price range of works $200–$3000]
Article by Cory Tamler