Carla Stetson and Cecilia Ramon
January 17 – March 11
My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.
- Agnes Martin
There is a beautiful moment that occasionally happens on an airplane. It might be afternoon, you might have gotten lucky and had the row of chairs to yourself, and you might have just finished your complimentary glass of Delta’s finest pinot noir. You lean your head against the tan plastic and look out the window. Between stretches of gauzy tendrils and drifts of white you might glimpse a snaking river, the patchwork of fields, and a few gridded streets and cookie cutter lots. The terrain might be familiar but you’re hard pressed to name the town or state passing below. In our contemporary life, air travel is the most expedient means of traversing separate continents and getting from ‘here’ to ‘there’. In an airplane you become disassociated from the land you left behind an hour ago. The cloudscape below offers glimpses of bits of land that are recognizable but not distinguishable. A similar feeling of familiarity and foreignness – being caught in a dreamy consciousness – is evident standing in the exhibition Confluence. The exhibit is the creative delta produced by a two-year collaboration between the artists Carla Stetson and Cecilia Ramon.
This exhibit functions as a map. This is not cartography that describes where these artists have been, but rather traces where they would like to go. Their work provides way-finding not for literal places or landscapes, although quotes and collages from reality are present in the pieces, but instead the artists’ work traces the topography of our own relation to the concept of geography, exploring the boundaries we’ve created and the borders we’re tentative to cross.
Carla Stetson and Cecilia Ramon hail from continents apart. Cecilia was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Carla Stetson in the United States. The two met in Duluth, Minnesota before Carla moved out east to teach at Ithaca College. They found resonance in each other’s work and common ground in the ideas they were exploring. While they had exhibited together, they had never collaborated directly, content to stay within the bounds of the western understanding of isolated genius and individual vision. Their continued discussions and investigations of the methods of art making began to impel them to take tentative steps towards collaboration. With Carla back in New York, they started mailing each other half completed work for the other to finish. The excitement each felt with these small experiments made it clear that once this momentum was unleashed, it would be difficult to contain the flow of creativity that would follow.
These initial mailing experiments led to full blown collaborative intensives. Just as the Mississippi begins with tentative streams and small tributaries and develops into a power visible from space, Ramon and Stetson found inspiration and creative urgency during these rigorous sessions. In order to corral these frenzied impulses, the artists built a channel – limiting the materials used in the collaborative creative process – watercolor paper, vellum, waxed linen thread, and graphite. Of course, just as a river occasionally overflows, some collage elements were occasionally introduced into the work.
Stetson and Ramon remain distinct creators, returning to their respective boundaries after intensive visits, the creativity ebbing and changing course as they pursue the traditional individual artist role. The individual work of both Stetson and Ramon remains decidedly unique in voice and structure. Ramon’s subtle wood and ink pieces provide an important balance to Stetson’s large-scale drawings and active collages. In turn, the literal voice in Stetson’s work provides a grounding pull for Ramon’s theoretical wanderings. The individual work on view in Confluence forms an intelligent conversation between artists on equal footing and serves as a wonderful introduction to the new melody created when these two voices join.
The centerpiece of these joined forces and the focal point of Confluence is the mesmerizing work: Troposphere. Made up of the pieces the artists exchanged by mail - the work consists of a total of 211 panels, each 12x12 inches, sewn together in columns and hung six high, two inches from the wall. They cover three walls – consuming the viewer’s complete range of vision. The gridded structure offers a fragmentation to the flows and drifts produced by the artist’s minimal media. Walking towards a square is like drilling down with an online map, each part becomes a new whole and a separate, unique work – details emerge and the square and segment provides new information on the more intimate scale. The viewer can float above the piece or imagine lying below - becoming blanketed in the details and expanse above.
The unique hanging apparatus of the panels allows for subtle movement. A viewer walks by and the piece ripples in recognition – aiding in the communication of the elemental forces of air and water in sculptural form. The addition of shadows created by the vellum creases and suspended squares draws attention to the use of light in the work. The grounding in geographical imagery combined with this play of illumination and incorporation of atmosphere and water, completes the elemental quadrangle that shapes our earth.
One of the important discoveries Ramon and Stetson made during their production process was the tension created when they accepted the loss of control inherent in artistic collaboration. Similar to the tenuous relationship humans have enacted with nature, the awe of such power and such restraint can actually be a freeing force in creation, and one that the two artists used as energy in the invention of their art.
So much exists in this world that we can't make sense of – that we can’t control. Yet we still try to digest, understand, and ultimately resolve loose threads. That same airplane that brings you towards new vantage points of earth’s topography exists as a metal husk, 30,000 feet above the ground. You place your trust into the hands of an unseen pilot and the physics that makes flight possible. The work in Confluence and the quest that Carla and Cecilia have pursued holds these tenuous pieces in balance and draws energy from the uneasy middle ground between borders. The artists provide viewers with a subtle and contemplative take on contemporary geography – bridging reality and memory, freedom and control. They chart a course towards a place to which we constantly wish to return.