When I was invited to curate an exhibition at EBK Gallery in Hartford, I decided to organize a solo show of prints by Laurie Sloan. Sloan, a printmaking professor at the University of Connecticut and founder of Counterproof Press, rarely shows her own work, so I relished the opportunity to rummage through her archive. Together we selected ten prints, which will be on display in Hartford for the month of April. I hope readers who live in the area will join us for the opening reception on Saturday, April 2, 6-9 pm.
Both diabolical and poetic, Sloan’s new screen prints remind me of The X-Files, which I’ve been binge-watching for the past few months. She laments that we live in an age marked by failed governments, terrorist threats, torture, intrusive surveillance, and other manmade anxieties. Against that contemporary backdrop, the groundbreaking post-Cold War TV series seems particularly prescient. It features a cabal of arrogant conspirators who, among other creepy things, use gene-editing technology to create tortured and hostile alien-human hybrids. Like one of the fictitious scientists – though to humane and constructive effect – she treats the hundreds of digital files she has accumulated on her hard drive like snippets of DNA, manipulating, grafting, combining, and recombining them to create inky, monster-like images.
[Image at top: Laurie Sloan, Untitled, 2016, varnished screen print on panel, 24 x 24 inches.]
Sloan says her process, which involves fusing digital technology and traditional screen printing techniques, is like that of a naïve (or irresponsible) scientist who tests hypotheses, executes experiments, and injects random occurrence into established order. A fragment may become a tail, a claw, or an ear depending on the context. At first glance, the black and white images, loosely conjuring woodblock prints from medieval manuscripts, seem abstract and graphic, but over time, they gain resonance as steady, accusing eyes seem to emerge from the dark masses. Sloan works the images until, as she says, they have the odd quality of agency but also feel like victims. Sloan’s monsters, like Grendel in Beowulf, are powerful and dangerous but at the same time targeted and vulnerable.
I’ve also selected some of Sloan’s earlier digital prints (images posted below), in which the fragmented forms seem to float through the picture plane, knocking into one another, but not quite coalescing into identifiable representations of things. Sloan’s fascination is in contrasting details – spiky shapes, fat rounded lines, toothy gears, truncated blobs – that manage to create an understated narrative and find resolution despite their willfully enigmatic nonchalance. Sloan’s elegantly realized prints vividly suggest that the truth is out there, but it’s maddeningly elusive as well as beautiful.
“Laurie Sloan,” curated by Sharon Butler. EBK Gallery, Hartford, CT. April 1- April 30, 2016. Opening reception Saturday, April 2, 6-9pm. Thanks, Eric!
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