Autumn Ahn will tell you about her technical training in oils and printmaking at Boston University; the religious references that inform her composition; and the time she waited two years for black clay to dry on canvas to apply a new layer of paint. Precise, methodical and an alchemist of sorts, Ahn’s process – much like her content – involves storytelling. In a studio visit cum retrospective, the breadth of her portfolio is a grand narrative that is still very much in flux.
To make sense of it all, enter Ahn’s Brooklyn space. High ceilings, a living room menagerie, and velvet upholstered seating set the scene. Ahn starts by showing an early painting of a dinner she attended, where her subjects’ eyes and limbs are disconnected from their bodies like props around a table. Viewers will recognize this literal exaggeration of the gaze as a way of mapping who was looking at who, and the use of hyperbolized hand gestures as a visual language. The seating arrangement can be likened to “The Last Supper” – one of several hints that religion, as a blueprint for structure, appears as a reoccurring theme in the layout of her work.
Experimenting with elaborate murals, sculpture and point of view, it is ultimately an artist residency in Greece that prompts an important shift in Ahn’s approach. Where a constellation of surfaces and applications were once her playground, in Kefalonia, the economy is tanking and materials are limited. Ahn found herself drawing in a handmade sketchbook, making new decisions around supply and availability, and using reclaimed surfaces as the building blocks for a site-specific exhibition at the Ionian Center for Arts & Culture (2011). One 70 x 90 inch tableau is comprised of acrylic, enamel and paint marker on thick industrial plastic. Ahn explains how “Construction 2” is similar to a time capsule that, through its various iterations and travels, now also includes hair, sand and debris in its materiality.
Bringing the outside world into her work has emerged as a central part of Ahn’s practice, and has to a large degree fostered her expansion in medium. In a series of collaborations with KSAT in Paris, France, Ahn made the leap from presenting two and three-dimensional art, to using her body in a six-hour performance.
Today, Ahn is exploring video, time and space in new ways. In “Annunciate | SEVEN,” Ahn gives another artist – whom she calls her avatar – directions for painting a mural via Google Hangout. Considerate of the online participatory experience, Ahn’s artist community was invited to interact in the making of, and to create contemporaneous pieces on Google Hangout inspired by the live stream.
“My face has received paint to act as a documentative tool during live performance. Internet and Google applications have been [my platforms] in virtually constructing an ephemeral world in which a physical avatar could live and create in real time. I have made paintings as a form of continuous narration - an illustrative tradition often found in Indian miniatures and religious art. And I use materials that conceptually respond to the needs of the environment at hand.”
Ahn’s installation “The Wayside” at the Ansonia Creative House, which some may recognize as the Plymouth Hotel during Miami art week, exhibited larger-than-life-size hands, limbs and extremities. Familiar territory, the staggeringly rigorous and articulate artist is reaching out more than ever, and through performance, audiences are now within Ahn’s grasp.
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