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In a fugue, as in life, an idea is proposed and a response ensues. A musical premise (in this genre referred to as the “subject”) is elaborated on via key changes and a number of trills and variations that ultimately converge at the work’s end. In her new body of work, titled Herfugue, the painter Mira Dancy presents a spare, somber group of figurative works on paper and sculptures placed at a physical remove from each other within the gallery, their depictions seemingly lost in thought. While a (somewhat tenuous) analogy, Dancy’s fugue thematic takes on a female perspective here; her call and response subtly piercing, although it remains unclear where its call is intended to land.
Dancy’s paintings have almost exclusively featured monumentally-scaled women, depicted in various poses reminiscent of figuration from Western art-historical painting—the reclining odalisque, bather, mother with child. Her figures sometimes compositionally strain against the confines of their grounds. They slouch in lurid abstract landscapes that recall the loose, acridly hued backgrounds of the German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, or float in embryonic streams of fuchsia and cobalt fluid. Yet “subject” is far too static a term to apply to these slippery characters, who each appear instead as physical materializations of interior tensions so private one is hard pressed to define them.
This introspective elegy plays out in two large-scale ink drawings on paper, titled Liberty’s Skyscraper and Liberty in the Street (all works 2019). Both figures avoid our gaze. These imposing but glassy-eyed Lady Liberties are joined by two additional self-standing transparent green acrylic sheets: the solo sculpture Herfugue and the adjacent Herfuse, in which female forms silhouetted in purple neon tubing—the show’s only coupled bodies, whose intertwined limbs resist each other’s company, arching their backs as if leaning away, even as their fingers entwine—and by four additional floor drawings, works made of raked and shaped black sand. In the center of one of these sand drawings, the circular Manhole, the word “HERFUEL” has been inscribed in the sand by the artist’s finger.
Dancy started out as a poet, and wordplay inspires her practice. Excerpts of a poem she wrote are painted on the gallery’s pillars. Per the artist, the poem, “Amalgam,” was inspired by Dancy’s imagining of the Statue of Liberty abandoning her post and aimlessly wandering the trash-clogged, sodden streets of late-winter Manhattan. “Fugue” thus takes on a secondary meaning here: a disoriented, disassociated state of mind.
Progressive conjugations, including herfuel, herfume, herfuse, and now herfugue, are a constant in Dancy’s titles—verbal prompts for her depictions of women whose otherwise stereotypical poses are complicated by their interior inscrutability and sense of being on their way somewhere else (somewhere better?). What remains unclear is whether Dancy intends for her harried and distracted individuals to unite in a final concerted coda (as recent political efforts have attempted)—or if her women will continue to wander myopically in a climate that has never felt more discordant and precarious.
Mira Dancy: Herfugue runs from September 15–November 10, 2019 at JOAN (1206 Maple Ave. Suite 715, Los Angeles, CA 90015).