Exhibition Review by Meg Reuland:
E. V. MESKIN'S "LOG IN" at LG GALLERY, 37 S. WABASH, ROOM 220, CHICAGO, OCTOBER 2004 (TEL: 312-899-5131)
Equipment (detail, acrylic painted computer & game equipment, 2004) E. V. Meksin
E. V. Meksin, whose solo show "Log In" filled the LG Gallery in October, is fascinated with the pictorial qualities of words. In one of many inversions her work proposes, "Log In's" examination of "word as image" also makes a strong claim for "image as word." This turn challenges semiotics' shibboleth "the arbitrariness of the signifier." But "Log In" 's painterly pleasures and mildly accosting installations steer the viewer away from ossified critical theories and into the more elusive realms of our daily experience of seeing, reading, and clicking electronically-uttered linguistic information.
Meksin's paintings are highly synthetic: areas of soft blended pastels interact with blocky overlays, and Meksin is not afraid to deploy neon colors or incise free-wheeling icons. Further contributing to their tactility is Meksin's use of vinyl sheets of stick-on letters. This hardware store product known as Permasign, with its grid-like regularity and plain, predetermined font, mimics the depersonalized "handwriting" of electronic media. Meksin uses Permasign to examine a set of words from the computer lexicon -- the one-word commands (eject, attach, help) indicators (space, home, end) and jargon (escape, shift, control) with which we relate to our machines and they relate to us.
Valves is a small, concentrated painting that is an intense negotiation of figure-ground and the possibilities of the simple machine at issue. The letters of the title swirl in between the layers of deep red and pink paint. When inverted, the letters seem to do different work (in the case of the V, for example, collecting versus emptying). Hovering in the background is the shadow of a V, cut in half by the lower boundary of the painting so that its contents empty into space. The composition simultaneously illustrates release, intake, and other mysteriously erotic kinds of circulation.
Valves (7.25 x 9.25 in., acrylic & plastic on mat board, 2004) E. V. Meksin
Eject is a panoramic format with letters floating above, below, and in between a heavily painted blue horizontal panel and sheerer green. In the subtle tilting of each letter, the E, J and E take on a backward velocity and seem to have been thrown from the rest of the word (as well as an extraneous K), submerged in bottom panel. As in Valves the shapes of the letters of the title evoke an action or command. The effect could be a cousin of onomatopoeia. Instead of a word's pronunciation sounding like what it describes, these are words whose pictorial qualities suggest their functionality.
Eject (2004) E. V. Meksin
Another painting, Mime Format, showcases Meksin's ability to create a space which simultaneously accommodates loveliness and wit. The work evokes landscape and plays with cardinal directions, which we project onto geography and are beholden to on a keyboard. Against a background of horizontal pastel striations, a fluorescent orange dot is smacked definitively off-center. Is the sun going up or going down? Or, perhaps more appropriately, is the sun coming out or is it coming in? Further complicating the issue are the sideways carrots in the middle of the sun, pointing outwards as they appear on the keyboard, straining to cancel each other out. Another "topographical feature" is a kind of mountain range, whose peaks are the ends of paint drips, rotated 180 degrees. The drips' rejection of the gravity that made them is yet another one of this work's many games of tug-of-war along perpendicular axes.
Mime Format (12 x 12 in., acrylic & plastic collage on panel, 2004) E. V. Meksin
Generally speaking, the installations in "Log In," more so than the paintings, seem to shoulder the heavier burdens of our computer culture. Equipment is an installation piece whose presence is sensed well before one encounters the piece. The viewer is drawn to this piece as the source of the flat intermittent beeping that is the exhibit's non-musical overtone. Like an auditory irritant, the beeping emanates from a small side room from which also spills out the blue light of multiple monitors displaying an error message. Each monitor is painted blue, orange, yellow, or green (non-neutral colors which effectively recast their traditional functionality), and they are arranged in a semi-circle encompassing the viewer. Their screens display the messaage that "A fatal exception has occurred", but that message is intermittently occluded by a flashing arrangement of rectangles. Underneath each monitor, a keyboard faces the viewer unnaturally, in a gesture that seems like indecent exposure. A fleet of putty-colored mice and joysticks swarm underfoot, their cords forming a scribble on the floor. At close range the bleeps sound sharper, punctuated by what sounds like a berating kind of laughter. Taken together, the unceasing beeping, the close aggregating of non-functioning albeit still highly-complex machinery, and the anemic bluish light, all convey a sinister nagging quality, like computer equipment now defunct but not silenced.
The wall-mounted sculpture Power Lines is an achievement in both scale and patience. Hundreds of toy letter blocks are arranged in the skeletal forms of the towers between power lines. The old-fashioned toy units, acting as pixels to deal with the technological subject, create tension at the material level. The blocks are painted mostly solid gray and solid black, neutralizing their signification, with the exception of the blocks across the center of the arrangement. Letter blocks across the midsection of the towers read respectively: USER NAME PASS WORD. In their symmetry and verticality, these forms are strikingly anthropomorphic; their message indicates access. Yet ultimately, their drab colors, fragmented limbs, and formidable stature prevent the viewer from identifying with the forms. They remain aloof to the viewer, even though one senses the internal logic of these totemic forms, excerpts from a larger coded system that stretches infinitely along roads and highways.
Username Password Powerlines (500 acrylic painted wood blocks, 2004) E. V. Meksin
"Log-In," Meksin's first major solo show, is an impressive debut. One painting in particular suggests Meskin's ambition and potential. In the large-scale work, Language, two black ciphers-their shape somewhere between an anvil and a charm -- scathe the bottom edge of the canvas. They appear to be in hot pursuit -- of each other and of other members of their coded system.
Language (38 x 48 in., acrylic on panel, 2004) E. V. Meksin
It's clear from the works in "Log In" that Meksin is also in hot pursuit of her own coded systems: complex languages of her own.
Meg Reuland holds a B. A. in Art History from Yale University and studies modern and contemporary art.