Seeking Fertile Solitude at Mills
“Fertile Solitude,” an exhibition of installation and video art, photography, painting and sculpture at the Mills Gallery, is hidden in a warren of makeshift rooms and corners behind latticework and green hedge panels. Guest curator Elizabeth Devlin’s layout seeks to apply to artists a theory by psychoanalyst Adam Phillips about
developing young adults: unconsciously they need solitude — in the potential presence of another — in which to “endanger” their bodies and “experiment with representations of it” on their route to self-definition. The tension of risk within protective boundaries shapes the exhibition in both process and results.
Our curiosity is piqued — as we wander among these very distinct spaces and objects — by the emphasis on things and materials. Is it planned that two artists focus on cigarette ash, or that a white duvet appears twice in the center of a naked room? Is it just by coincidence that the same close range of blues recurs in five works, or that references to hands, lamps and other sources of illumination pop up everywhere?
The leitmotif of cigarette ash certainly links conceptualist Annette Lemieux and sculptor Hao Ni.Lemieux’s self-portrait, “Bad Habits,” is a large ink-jet print in ashen greys and whites. The artist lies on a couch next to a white cinderblock wall. She’s completely covered by a white duvet, with only her face and salt-and-pepper locks showing on the white pillow. No doubt about it, she is “smoking” in bed. The cigarette pointing straight up from her lips precariously supports an inch of ash. Her eyes are locked on the descending edge of combustion. Posed on the couch between her and us lies a huge plate of long, limp french-fries about as long as the burning cigarette. Are we seeing the artist staring at her flaws and mortality while struggling to keep a straight face?