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At Commonwealth and Council, two simultaneous exhibitions by Patricia Fernández offer fleeting glimpses into the ways in which the artist classifies and conceptualizes the passage of time. The first and smaller of the two exhibitions, Box (a proposition for ten years), presents a mercurial, ever-shifting archive of objects—paintings and drawings, found oddities, writing fragments, exquisite wood carvings—that Fernández has been meticulously collecting since 2012 and exhibiting annually since 2013, with each curation presenting a novel suite of objects. The second and more penetrating exhibition, Heartbeats, includes large-scale paintings and hand-carved, sculptural clocks that disrupt the notion of time as a neat and linear phenomenon, instead disregarding its measurability in favor of an elusory visual language. Fernández’s work attempts to grasp the ungraspable, and in doing so points to time—an otherwise confounding and infinite continuum—as a state of perfect disjunction: calculable yet boundless, immaterial yet wholly tactile, futile and yet all-controlling.
In the current iteration of Box (2012–2022), the work’s myriad components are scattered about the gallery space in cryptic yet beguiling groupings. Three free-standing “finding aids” punctuate this minimalist installation, with two of these signposts functioning more as conceptual diagrams than expository sources of information. An intricately carved wooden box—the conceptual crux of the exhibition, as well as one of the first objects a viewer encounters—serves as the eponymous vessel for the work’s constantly fluctuating array of contents. (As a receptacle, the box’s function is partially metaphorical, as the associated objects have become either too large or too numerous to fit neatly inside it). In addition to objects created or sourced by the artist, this growing body of ephemera indexes an intimate, timed-based correspondence between Fernández and Young Chung, a fellow artist and the gallery’s founder, that dates back to the project’s origins. While these accumulated items (now archived by Los Angeles Contemporary Archive [LACA]) include slivers of written correspondence, the thrust of the work lies with the physical objects themselves, which together appear imbued with layers of enigmatic allegorical meaning. One fascinating combination, housed on an elaborate and immaculately carved wooden shelf (a nod to Fernández’s grandfather’s wood-carving practice) includes a small ship made of bone, a porcelain bowl, a daybed, and an intimate painting of Saint Casilda of Spain that recalls John Everett Millais’ 1852 painting of a doomed and drowning Ophelia. Void of explicative text or backstory, however, the presentation at hand veils these objects with unnecessary opacity: it requires a bit of motivated research—such as locating and browsing LACA’s separate, unlinked digital archive—to fully illuminate the context of these items. While subtlety is a virtue, this dearth of on-site information makes the Box’s otherwise enticingly strange and beautiful contents conceptually impenetrable to the unanointed viewer.
If an archive is traditionally a repository of information—a stable, navigable entity—here, it functions rather differently, serving to uniquely anchor and conceptualize a specific stretch of time. While Fernández’s objects may be in flux, her fidelity to collating them over a ten-year timespan remains concrete, turning time itself into the archive’s defining meter of logic—an improbable, poetic proposition.
Time is abstract and impervious to control, of course—a sentiment that Fernández’s hand-carved walnut clocks harness to esoteric effect in Heartbeats. Created amidst the turbulence of lockdown, the clock assemblages incorporate delicately painted glyphs (astronomical symbols, hourglasses, Roman numerals) as well as sculptural elements salvaged from various mountain and desert landscapes (rocks, ceramic tiles, rusted shards of metal). Their ticking hands all move silently to unique, unsynchronized rhythms, creating a cacophony of soundless heartbeats. Some, like Lunar Moon in August (Mojave) and Lunar Moon in August (Cascade Range) (both 2020) simply flutter and quiver, further abstracting their already-vague functions. Here, the mere suggestion of temporality becomes the only comprehensible unit of measure. As time wrests control of each clock in an unpredictable manner, their asynchronous movements point to the futility of timekeeping, while also serving as a reminder that time ravages all things in incongruent ways.
Fernández’s paintings similarly function as divergent forms of timekeeping—objects that instead etch a chronology of the artist’s idiosyncratic processes. Two oblong works bearing the same date and title, 34.13°N, 118.80° W (2010/20), recall parchment scrolls or ancient syllabic tablets, their compositions riddled with abstract symbols that suggest fragments of an indecipherable language. As paintings, they index a complex material history: their formal gestures stem from the artist’s decades-old sketches, which she first rendered in clay before translating into painting. The works’ metamorphosis from drawing to sculpture to painting posits time as an unseen element of material transformation, whereby an object’s physical history becomes inscribed into the composition of its surface. Reminiscent of natural processes such as erosion and evolution (a notion underscored by the geographical coordinates-as-titles), the paintings’ poetically diffuse material histories counterbalance the erratic energy of the sculpted clocks. These disparate works nonetheless unify around a complementary thesis: that time is a tactile yet profoundly immeasurable force.
Patricia Fernández: Heartbeats and Box (a proposition for ten years) run from January 7–February 6, 2021 at Commonwealth and Council (3006 W. 7th St. #220, Los Angeles, CA 90005).