Nina Katchadourian’s art is subtle and obsessive, whimsical and intelligent. Through her varied practice of photography, sculpture, video and sound works, she gathers, categorizes, and analyzes information, imposing order on inherently illogical ventures and communicating meaning from the virtually meaningless. Her study of language and its absence, as well as intrinsic order and applied patterns, calls to question our very understanding of communication and intention. This Hudson (Show)Room exhibition joins works from three related series in the artist’s oeuvre.
In Mended Spiderwebs and Other Natural Misunderstandings, Katchadourian inscribes her own eccentric and persistent vision of organization and communication. Using tweezers and red sewing thread, she patched holes in broken spiderwebs that she encountered on the island of Pörtö in the Finnish archipelago, resulting in floating red patterns among the delicate silvery nets. Katchadourian inserted each thread segment individually into the webs: short segments were anchored by the natural stickiness of the webs and long segments were attached by dipping the ends in white glue. The artist starched thread occasionally to make it stiffer and easier to use. She patched each hole until it was completely repaired or the webs could no longer bear the weight of the thread.
Her hands, of course, often caused further damage to the webs. To the artist’s surprise, spiders consistently rejected each patch job by discarding the thread from their webs during the night and repairing the holes using their own method. Some of the larger patches containing glue retained their form after being ejected from the webs. In Mended Spiderweb #8 (Fish-Shaped Patch) and Mended Spiderweb #14 (Spoon Patch), Katchadourian presents the rejected patches alongside her photographs of the patched webs in situ. Do-It-Yourself Spiderweb Repair Kit, a plastic box with scissors, tweezers, adhesive, and red thread, demystifies the artist’s process and seems to offer a retail-ready encounter with nature.
The video GIFT/GIFT, 1998, playfully references arachnid behavior of wrapping prey in silk and presenting it to another spider. In the video, an angry spider battles the artist’s tweezers as she inserts letters spelling the word “gift.” Ironically, when pronounced in Swedish, gift means “poison.” Finally, the artist inserts each letter into the web, albeit damaging the web in the process. The spider returns, extracts the letters in the order they were applied, and repairs the web itself.
In Indecision on The Moon, 2001, the audience enters an entirely darkened room suggestive of the vastness of deep space. Inside, the listener hears an audio recording of Neil Armstrong’s historic 1969 lunar landing. The artist, however, has altered the disk to play only the recorded static and interjectory pauses spoken by the astronaut, reducing the event to a pattern of static and stutters. Nonetheless, the recording is immediately recognizable. Intrigued by the perplexities of translation, encryption, and comprehension, Katchadourian considers the empty spaces to be as telling and encoded as the event itself. The static void is unmistakably familiar, and the beeps, bursts, and tunneling background noise are the sounds of time and distance. In a thoughtful balancing act between human and mechanical elements, Katchadourian highlights the event’s era and remoteness by decontextualizing it and putting it in an abstract form.
In Eight Years of Sorting Books Katchadourian, again, isolates a pattern within a system, in this case, library books. Working with specific librariesfrom museums, offices, galleries, and private homesshe singles out particular titles and arranges them in poetic stacks. The titles, when read in Katchadourian’s sequence, form short stories, aphorisms, or poetry alluding to the contents of the collection from which they were derived. Included in this exhibition are seven prints of book clusters and an on-going slide show documenting approximately 40 images since the project’s inception.