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Anne Lemanski's Simulacra: Medium as the Meaning

by Joshua Peters

Anne Lemanski's Simulacra: Medium as the Meaning

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Picture by McColl Center

September 23, 2015

Photos: (top) Anne Lemanski, Simulacra exhibition installation view; (middle) Impala (detail, 2015), courtesy of the artist and McColl Center; (bottom) Whale (2015), courtesy of the artist and McColl Center.

Over the past few weeks, across several Charlotte galleries and museums, we have seen artists exhibited that wield their chosen medium in a way that subverts what we often think of as typical of that medium.

But art is a creative endeavor, and in more ways than you might think—especially under the banner of contemporary Postmodernism, the prevailing art doctrine since the 1970s, and one founded on a platform of objective relativism. Under this doctrine, the artist is encouraged to value style over substance to a greater or lesser degree, and encouraged to value “medium” merely as a vehicle through which to communicate an idea. In this way, the artist triumphs over the academia of “Modernism,” dumping what might be classically considered the superior style, technique, or interpretation of reality in favor of a representation (or lack thereof) that best communicates their unique artist’s purpose. Simply put, artists are trying new things with classical mediums and processes because postmodern art culture demands innovation and artistic discovery, as well as new and exciting aesthetics and concepts.

One of those artists working hard to change the way we think about classical mediums—in this case, sculpture and printmaking—is Alumna Artist-In-Residence at the McColl Center for Arts + Innovation, Anne Lemanski. Lemanski's latest exhibition at the McColl Center, Simulacra, running through Jan. 2, 2016, is truly a practice in postmodernism. It takes ideas of collage and assemblage, lithography and representative sculpture, and blends them into artworks that live in an entirely new design space.

Lemanski, a North Carolina Arts Council Grant recipient in 2010-11, earned her BFA from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit in 1992. She studied overseas in Florence, Italy, and now lives in Spruce Pine, N.C. The centerpiece of Simulacra is Impala, a scale simulacra of that animal. What makes Impala so important to the success of Simulacra is two-fold: First, its size and visual presence make it the focal point of the gallery space; second, it uses the attention it earns to introduce the audience to a visual language that is reflected in 360 degrees around the central sculptural installation. Through Impala, and its partners Jackrabbit and Black Widow, we are guided through the aesthetic choices of Simulacra.

This visual language here is one of heavy gauge copper wire, paper and thread. The creatures Lemanski creates are largely true to life—eerily so at times despite their construction, distorted scale and stitch-covered surface. Sewn to copper armatures, the digitally manufactured paper skin of Impala and friends features fur and cartilage, but only in so far as visual texture can provide. What’s left is a strangely smooth, polygonal and elegant representation of nature. It’s a surreal confrontation with wildlife, as if it were ripped through a television screen with bad satellite reception during a Discovery Channel documentary.

When we move from the center of the space to the walls, we see the world from where, perhaps, Impala came. Lemanski’s collages-turned-lithographs are grounded by more exotic wildlife—birds, butterflies, tigers, whales, along with a whole host of supporting cast members, including Neptune himself. Fields of an oceanic blue, white geometric riggings and mathematical drawings, shapes, and diagrams snipped from instruction manuals for industrial machinery—seemingly arbitrary objects—all serve as a loud, slightly unnerving background to Lemanski’s animal subjects. Amongst its constituents, Simulacra generates a visual busyness, a focused noise which is almost overwhelming. Swaths of repetition, crowded compositions, elements fighting for visual priority—all sort of perpetually spin around Impala’s central podium.

Lemanski’s whirlpool of beautiful illustrative collage— and subsequently, the three-dimensional collage at its center—is a perfect example of an artist using medium as a vehicle through which to communicate an idea. Sewn paper over copper armature was the most impactful way to achieve an aesthetic that reverberates between two and three dimensions, and that distorts how we think of collage and how we perceive nature. It also speaks to the artificiality of a life lived, or perceived, through digital simulacra. Lemanski’s artwork is the result of decisions made to further an artistic purpose, not a classical idea of artistic perfection. Simulacra, through a seemingly incomprehensible storm of symbolism, postmodern constructivism and loud colors, somehow makes sure that the audience not only leaves impressed by the scope, scale and execution of it, but leaves having understood Lemanski, and perhaps having reconsidered the personal lens through which we look at the world.

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Tags: postmodernism, simulacra, sculpture, Anne Lemanski, McColl Center

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