Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Carrie Ann Plank's Battleground Between Minimalism vs. Content

Carrie An Plank has been exhibiting her re-contexted images for a a few years now. She has amassed an impressive resume, has exhibited her work nationally and internationally, and is included in some notable public collections. Plank's creative forays into multiple-layered images extends into several media as well. For our discussion, I have selected some of her prints that deal with shapes,  figures, diagrams, mathematical references, measuring, x-rays and microbial cells. Finding Plank's actual content/context in these deeply-layered images will be the goal of our search.

Plank presents compositions that are balanced, and her colors are pleasing to one's eyes; her lines are sharp and clear. They are initially inviting on several levels, but they also call upon the viewer to ponder their many-imaged layers to see if there is something of stronger substance behind the forms and colors. Once the viewer allows him or herself to delve into the actual objects Plank uses in her images, then the sparks start to fly. You see, the viewer is confronted with a battle, and it is one of changing definitions vs. absolutes.  In her statement at, she often refers to her  prints as being 'based on re-contextualizing information'.   The battleground being fought over here is whether the deliberate density of Plank's images succeeds in negating the content that is so buried within, and whether she succeeds in reformulating a new context for the images. If so, what can the artist be saying about  these works? Is there anything the viewer can glean from these over-saturated images other than formal relationships, and if formalism is a key factor, then do we make a leap of faith into a kind of neo-minimalism?  So you understand my(our) quandry.... 

The answer may not be reached in this article, but Plank is one of many artists who have grown up in an age of  media overload. Rather than present her work in the ever-popular but nearly always abysmal media defined as performance and installations (except for Nam June Paik)  Plank works in printmaking, book arts and painting. Thank goodness. For me, her subliminal images are more visually successful in painting, but her prints have their own tactile qualities. The truth of  Paik's  early sound and contemporary event installations is certainly an ancestor of Plank's work, but she softens it a bit with images that refer to women and children, mathematical measurements of normalcy, and systematic scientific charts to predict and record one's findings in a world so full of information we can't hope to achieve a Renaissance Man stature. Those days are long gone, and we have much more information to process than they did 500 years ago. The velocity with which information and images propel themselves at us everyday is almost too much for our heavily-challenged  retinas and brain synapses to store into our now pre-ahlzheimers'-disposed brains. We're burning ourselves out, literally and visually.

Plank's work also refers to earlier artists who have explored the saturation age - artists like Robert Rauschenberg, and the deeply-veiled (exasperatingly so) imagery of Jasper Johns. Where Rauschenberg worked through a steady stream of application and intuitive response, Plank's works are more measured in their compositions, her colors are well-selected and balanced,  and one sees evidence of careful consideration for her seemingly random subject selection. The underlying conflicts and skirmishes that Plank creates (maybe unknowingly) present a conundrum for the viewer and the  works' lasting impressions in that we want to find the connections between the seeming randomness of her process. 

What may the most challenging process of making and our understanding of Plank's images is her eternal searching through disparate subject matter. This can be a dizzying process and to get to the point of such inundation that the subject's meaning is no longer remembered but one only 'processes' the subject according to form and line, maybe that is Plank's success(?) I don't know if one could call it that, but surely Plank won't be the only artist who 'achieves' this level of cognitive disconnect. It is a development of the mind to disassociate from content and the history of a form's context. Is this the path to a new form of Neo-minimalism or Neo-Contexturalism? It's clearly not the kind of minimalism we saw in the 1970s, but it is a minimizing of visual reference and a de-emphasis on meaning that we have held as a truth for centuries. Have we (in this case Plank) evolved to  some new level of cognition?
I will confess that I am an artist that appreciates knowing the artist' intent, their content and their visual message. We as artists reflect what is in our society and we can be a mirror, or we can shift through the muck and speak a truth that needs to be said.  There is enough confusion in the world to go around, and we as artists have a visual compass and a moral responsibility to lead the the world through the quagmire of life toward understanding. When we merely reflect (either as a document or record) what happens, we do not lead the uninitiated toward enlightenment. I find no crumbs or clues as to the direction of Plank' s images, no series apparent except through some repeated images. No matter, (for that's my crux to bear.) The man vs. science I previously mentioned is the clearest visible path toward understanding her work, and finding the marriage between those two realms may be the key to our understanding. While this is hardly a new theme,  it is one without end - as long as there is information to gather and process, and there is a curious mind to disseminate the morass. 

Plank may well have achieved a level of  mindful disconnect to re-invent context. It may well be that a generation of artists are on the verge of seeing the world differently than anyone has previously understood. I, for one, hope we do not lose visual sight with our history, any more than we have already struggled to decipher ancient symbols and languages that have helped us to understand our evolution. I will, however, cautiously watch this new re-contexturalizing as a possible step toward a new enlightenment.


Education: MFA - Pennsylvania State University, BFA - East Carolina University

Teaching: Assistant Director of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University, formerly taught at Pennsylvania State University, Xavier University, and University of New Orleans
Residencies: Vermont Studio, Monte Azul in Costa Rica
Exhibitions: United States, England, China, Japan, Croatia

Selected Collections:
The Library of Congress
City of Venice, Italy
SGC International Archives, U. of Mississippi, Washington University Special Collections
University of Virginia
East Carolina University
Honolulu Academy of Art

No comments:

Post a Comment