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Astrology, magic, and the symbology of both are often marked by intricate, spiralling interconnection—the mechanics of a soap opera in metaphysical-spiritual form. Symbols endlessly succeed into one another; recurrence is the necessary language of this ultimate circularity.
Betye Saar’s two-part career survey at Roberts and Tilton restlessly engages recurrence, and its physiological cousin, memory. Memory can be a gooey thing, relaxed by the repeated press of recall, grown faint over time, and smeared in gobs of difficult-to-place emotion nearly always. Saar, perhaps as a counterweight, often makes reference to navigation, particularly in the form of ships, and geographical globes—a surface without definitive, linear end (or beginning).
Navigation can be choppy: the faces of Standing in the Shadow of Love (2000) remain persistent, in their figuration, in part, on the regular peaks and valleys of an old washboard, as if stoically weathering a regular, distorting sequence of waves. Mojotech (1987), a large, mixed media piece, balances busier, tchotchke-filled sections against the painstaking intricacies of several circuitry boards, suggesting the necessity of something regular, and external, on which to map flux. As if we might map the coordinates of our own lives, and the cultural history they form—no matter its muddled, dark, and often painful character.
In Dark Journey The Game of Destiny (2016), dominoes ring a halved, black-oceaned globe, on which perches a small ship under a long, totemic sculpture. Saar here collapses several themes: the urge to discovery fueling navigation of the seas, the transformation of seafaring in the service of industry, economy and labor, and cultural theft, all linked like one domino falling into another. Saar’s work can follow dream logic to esoteric fault, letting the rumble of meaning subside. But it’s navigatory impulse ultimately points to place, and the marring of it, hidden in the map which both buoys the activity of navigation, and forms in its wake.
Betye Saar: Blend and Black White run through December 17, 2016 at Roberts and Tilton (5801 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232).