WHAT LIES BETWEEN, RECENT WORKS BY OLIVIA BERNARD
ORESMAN GALLERY BROWN FINE ARTS CENTER
22 ELM STREET NORTHAMPTON, MASSACHUSETTS
by Elizabeth Michelman
Olivia Bernard’s sculpture has always spoken through the fingertips to the whole body. No matter how flat a piece becomes, there’s always another side — and always a sense of inside and outside. It’s tempting to read her small glass panels and attenuated sheets of handmade paper as following within the traditions of abstract or color field painting. But Bernard is neither a painter nor a follower and has no interest in carrying forward the ideological, political or art-historical agenda of abstract painting today. Her 3-D sculpture and installation is grounded in minimalism, feminism and process art. Drawing has always been an extension of her 3-D exploration; she approaches the surface not as a field of visual experimentation but as an exploration of her personal boundaries.
In October, at Smith College’s Brown Fine Arts Center, Bernard will be showing two groups of smaller, relatively flat, wall-mounted work. These employ simple, low-tech materials, as usual, to explore the sensation of translucency. As in her larger sculptures and installations, which have shifted from poured Hydrocal carapaces to handmade paper over wire mesh, the materials in the current works are vitalized in an alchemical transformation from liquid to solid. The “Glass/Wax” series involves a process of dipping glass panes in hot wax, while the “Embedded” series fixes linear structures into stable forms in wet paper pulp.
The materiality of Bernard’s works forces us to reconsider our notions of both “flatness” and “drawing.” Her avoidance of traditional frames forces us to see these forms, in spite of their thinness and rectilinearity, as objects. In the “Glass/Wax” series, the work is not hidden behind glass; the glass pane, which serves as both surface and structure, is itself the work. Leaning against the wall and supported only by a narrow steel flange, each naked pane is at risk from vibration and mishandling. Likewise, Bernard refuses to confine the handmade paper sheets of the “Embedded” series. She floats them over an invisible Plexiglas substrate projecting a few inches off the wall, where they are subject to air currents, gravity, and electrostatic attraction.