Embodiment and Meaning – Annie Teall

Kim Cridler stands in a corner of her studio, speaking animatedly about the object which she has just retrieved from the place where it was hanging on the wall, next to the door leading out into the yard. She’s holding the mangled, but still relatively intact wing of a dead bird, which has apparently been hanging in that spot for quite some time. Elsewhere in her workspace, other bits of decaying detritus can be found – dead tree limbs, cross-sections of entire trunks, even an unidentified animal skull lying in a bed of wiry blonde hair and encased in a hatbox. Cridler’s sculptural works are full of life, ornamented with flowers, leaves, fruit, birds, snakes, bees, moths, butterflies; our visits to her studio, however, seemed to reveal a curious preoccupation with death, or at least with the artifacts of it. She speaks with great enthusiasm about a dead animal across which she stumbled while on a walk, its guts spilling out onto the ground around it; “beautiful” is her adjective of choice in describing the viscera. This same preoccupation is revealed looking back through her catalog of work with a discerning eye, like a dark subtext inserted within an apparently innocuous narrative; delicate flower forms are lined with stretched animal gut, a death’s-head skull lies embedded within the rings of a tree trunk, snakes devour bird’s eggs and pomegranates are torn open and consumed by bees. How to make sense of this quiet undercurrent of the macabre, of bodies absent of life, disassembled and reformed?

One possible solution may lie in considering the multiple meanings that might be derived from describing Cridler’s tremendous collection of vessels, sculptural objects, sketches, forms and figures, as a body of work – not only a set of multiple pieces that are coherent in form, process, and meaning, but also a series of works in which the idea of the body is articulated and reiterated, and used as a framework for a diversity of conceptual explorations. Perhaps the clearest evidence for such a reading of her work lies in the language used in Cridler’s artist statements; she describes the “forms, processes and materials that give flesh to objects of utility and ornament,” of “joining small parts together into a larger body,” and how the materials used, woven hair, beeswax, and stretched gut among them, are “ways of casting different values and histories against the skeletal armatures,” which “complete these structures with the kind of emotional and sensual meaning that knowledge and language cannot adequately account for.” Her articulation of the metal frameworks of her pieces as “skeletal,” and of her work as being the work of of “giving flesh,” allows for an interpretation of Cridler’s artistic practice as being that of constructing bodies, of building forms that are just as corporeal as those of the dead animals which seem to so often catch her attention. Leaves, branches, flowers and animals hang from her metalwork lattices like flesh and feathers from bone. As Deleuze says about Bacon, “the body is revealed only when it ceases to be supported by the bones, when the flesh ceases to cover the bones, when the two exist for each other, but each on its own terms: the bone as the material structure of the body, the flesh as the bodily material of the Figure.”

Our curatorial selection of her work, in many ways, serves to reaffirm the notion of the artist’s work – and even the process through which it is generated – as a body. Over the course of speaking with Cridler about her work and creative process, and in being afforded the privilege to look through the tremendous variety of artifacts that were produced as products of this process – massive to-scale preparatory sketches, swarms of tiny cast bees, an archive of incredibly detailed and beautifully filled sketchbooks – the more we became interested in her process as a thing of beauty in and of itself, as the skeletal structure of the fully-fleshed out body of finished works. Our hope is that, in stripping away the exterior and revealing the bare bones that lie beneath, we can perhaps bring more clearly into focus that which the artist is attempting to reach – in her own words, “the kind of emotional and sensual meaning that knowledge and language cannot adequately account for.” I cannot account for it either, and certainly not in writing; nevertheless, it is there, and in abundance. Our hope is that, as curators, we have aided both the artist and the viewer in coming the slightest bit closer to that inarticulable meaning.

img_5836

To Love is to Know – Morgan Hayden 

Kim Cridler made me cry. I was on the bus home, reading her sketchbook dating from the early 1990’s, resting the crushed velvet cover on my knees. The sketchbook contains mostly polaroid shots of works in progress, some logistical sketches, a couple found leaves and flowers, but on the whole lacking the invested sketches of later books. Instead of drawings, she filled the book with words. The writing on some pages verges on diary entries, displaying deep emotional vulnerability. I did not finish reading the sketchbook.

This level of vulnerability is not immediately obvious in her work. Cridler’s work is polished, crafted with care and a level of precision that borders on obsession. Hand sewing a satin slip for an ornate steel runner is only the beginning of her attention to detail. Even small sketches achieve a grace and beauty that allows them to transcend their function as source material or references. She is committed to the beautiful object. But they are beautiful objects stemming from places of deep turmoil. For instance, Bittersweet Basin, serves as a record of wrestling with the weight of motherhood. Cridler’s life seeps through the branches of her sculptures.

The writer and public intellectual Rebecca Solnit spoke in Grand Rapids about her is a writer and thinker came to Grand Rapids to speak about her recent atlas project. This project examines the unique function of a map, the way maps can be used to understand where you are, and perhaps who you are. Both Solnit and Cridler understand the importance of place and how place influences who you become. One of Cridler’s previous shows, entitled My Wisconsin Home, warranted this statement:

This project and the investigative process at its heart is testimony to my love for and interest in Wisconsin, its sheer physical grandeur and its rich history, its settlements and displacements. I hope this attempt to understand my surroundings through study and research will provide me, a more recent settler, to find a place for myself in the order of things.

The particularity with which Cridler crafts her beautiful objects betrays the love that she invests in them. The specificity in which Solnit’s maps place each street betrays the love that Solnit has for the city. In her talk, Solnit included a quote from Gloria Steinem; “hate generalizes, love particularizes.” It was this particularity in Cridler’s emotive writings that caused me to cry on the bus that October evening. What she confessed to her sketchbook spoke to my own tumultuous emotions, her words opening up space for me to feel.

In this contentious time and with an unknown future, let us lend our hands to particular practices, crafting carefully, with love.