We like to think of time in definite terms. Hours, minutes, seconds. But time is not absolute and we've known it since antiquity. Long before philosophers, mathematicians and scientists took on the challenge of defining our environment in universal terms, humanity told stories. Millenia before Einstein wrote his theory of general relativity, Homer had written the Iliad. Because stories -- more so than weeks, months or years -- help remind us of who we are. And hidden within tales, ballads and other mechanisms of collective memory, is the implied human knowledge that time is relative.
"Once upon a time I met Doni Silver Simons." That was two years ago.
What's in a year? Would that which we call a year, by any other name, contain as much?
For me, two years have contained the discovery of an artist who explores fairy tales, rites of passage, mythologies, folklore and systems of transmission or enumeration -- both vocal and visual. She looks for the shapes of society's stories -- a la Kurt Vonnegut -- but she also seeks out the individual, the person, engaging the individual members of her audience in active participation. The artist is Doni Silver Simons and most recently she has opened a solo exhibition at Shulamit Gallery.
Just off the Venice Beach boardwalk and next door to LA Louver, Silver Simons has erected three canvas-draped scaffolds, an ode to Rumpelstiltskin. Remnants of a performance piece entitled "Homage to a Fairy Tale," each sheet of raw canvas has been partially unraveled, a delicate act whose soft touch is evidenced in the filaments that stream down to the floor as water would. Across the room, a narrow spool of canvas fabric appears to be frozen fluid-like in mid-air, about to drip into the trough below. And equidistant to both, poised as if between past and future, a meditative film reel loops, inviting us to contemplate strand by meditative strand of fiber dropping ever so gently to the floor below.
Entering the gallery into this ambiance is like picking up a bedtime story where one left off the night before. Which is why I think of Silver Simons as a storyteller. Silver Simons describes herself as a mark-maker, who is "simply making a mark" -- and strong visceral-looking marks reminiscent of Cy Twombly's at that. Even while she chooses the terminology of residue, memory and identity to explain her work -- work that recalls Hanne Darboven in its relentless documentation of moment after moment -- she weaves a narrative "What has been, could have been and what is no longer" and leaves just enough room, like a true storyteller, for "what may come."
Repurposing familiar memes, Silver Simons introduces new gestures, humbly altering materials from their original form. Her trademark touch so subtle, to the point of eroded transparency, that it leaves room for the spectator to project himself, his own memory, his own stories and identity, into her work. In this way, as if under the direction of Bruno Bettelheim per The Uses of Enchantment, Silver Simons expands systems of transmission so that they become new rituals, contemporized sources of renewal and strength to the weary clock-worn modern man.
Behind a partition lays another body of work, four pieces from a recent exhibit at The Annenberg Beach House. The pieces' compositions describe duets, both within -- between the same canvas' back and front, inside and out -- but also without, dancing, speaking communicating with one another.
The works are variations on the word "Caesura" -- an elongated breath used in poetry to meter a phrase. In "Tied" and "Tidal," Silver Simons breaks down the whole into its dual parts. "Tied" describes, graph-like, the wax and wane of the moon, and "Tidal," directly opposite, is engraved with visual tide tables and layers of painted sediment that intimate the crash of waves against the shore. The waves build the beach. They erode the beach. They deposit artifacts and with them fragments of time, memories. They withdraw them both. Doni re-enacts the duet between the moon and waves, weaving into both canvases the syncopated solar and lunar gravities, tracing a tale about time more closely related to the fluctuating temperament of mother nature than the abstract, mechanical gears of a marine chronometer.
At a perpendicular axis to "Tied" and "Tidal," an untitled piece faces "Caesura I" and "II." The untitled piece's canvas, torn, turned and twisted, conflates back and front, while "Caesuras I" and "II" contain canvas within canvas, the external canvas slashed to reveal the internal, blending, bleeding inside and out. The resultant choreography is a play on relationships, revealing the binary nature of our world and our desire to transcend and surpass the inevitable duality.
In an evening presentation by the artist, Silver Simons relates an anecdote about her time working on an American-Indian reservation. When she first arrived, she would appear promptly for meetings at an agreed upon hour. But the residents of the reservation would wander in at their leisure. It seemed they were somehow attuned to one another's whereabouts, telepathically coordinating a relatively synchronized arrival. This episode intimates the extent to which I believe Silver Simons builds upon and supersedes the persistent or visceral mark making of Hanne Darboven and Cy Twombly.
Beyond describing that which we can see -- that which we already know, our memories, imprints of our identities, our past and present -- Silver Simons is tracing the shadows of our relationships, our hopes and desires for one another. She is telling the ballad of our future. She is measuring the distance of our collective tale in stories told.