Contributed by Sharon Butler / Climate change is in the air, so to speak. I recently finished binge-watching Fortitude, an ongoing British sci-fi series about a Norwegian research outpost in the Arctic. The permafrost has begun to melt, unleashing unexpected horrors including species-jumping bacteria and a dangerous buckling effect whereby layers of ice melt at different rates and leave perilous holes. So when I saw “Slippery Slope,” Theresa Hackett’s sharp and thoughtful exhibition at High Noon, on view through April 22, I had been conditioned to read jeopardy into her large-scale panels depicting abstracted landscape cross-sections.
Hackett has been thinking about landscape and environmental issues for years, but these paintings – both the large wooden panels and the smaller paintings hung salon-style in the back – seem to have a new sense of urgency. In the entryway, the first panel, A Trail of Messages, is resting on a raggedy foundation of weather-worn bricks that Hackett gathered under the Brooklyn Bridge. The panel comprises crudely drawn abstract shapes arranged in what looks like a vertical cross section of a steeply sloping hill. At the bottom, the largest, roughly rectangular shapes (trashed computer monitors from 1995? text messages from 2018?) echo the contours of the bricks on which the painting is precariously propped. Diatomaceous earth powder, made from the microscopic remains of tiny, fossilized sea creatures, gives the surface a dry, powdery quality. As she contemplates the things we leave behind, Hackett intertwines images and objects, appearing to suggest that paintings can be both factual and imaginary.
Big Rock Candy Mountain is another cross-sectional composition in which elliptical forms, in sculptural relief and arrayed on the bottom half of the piece, are encrusted with gem-like materials. The largest geologic layer, located above two slimmer gently curving layers, consists of thin, dripping vertical lines of blue paint – perhaps a reference to the ocean where Hackett spent many hours as a California teenager atop a surfboard, wondering about the aquatic world below. In landscape schematics, the different layers, depicting materials deposited over thousands of years, are embedded with rich geologic history that may have different interpretations depending on who is telling the story. Melting Down, the third panel in the show, conjures a V-shaped funnel-like crevice, and at the bottom, through a round hole drilled in the panel, a coil made of rolled Apoxie-sculpt emerges. The raw, pre-historic form, which seems to ooze by accident from the bowels of the earth, is constructively unsettling.
Moira Dryer’s abstract panels and Lucio Fontana’s perforated canvases have influenced Hackett’s work. So has the work of Hilma af Klint, whose paintings, along with those of Agnes Martin, share with Hackett’s a light touch and dry surface that combines thin paint application with geometric drawing strategies. In the back of the gallery, a more traditional form of landscape imagery is presented on the small panels. If in the larger ones Hackett is noodling on the mysterious unknowns hidden deep within — the land, our history, our subconscious — on the smaller ones she tends to make the unthinkable less discomfiting – even verging on a kind of stylized picturesque like Charles Burchfield or Marsden Hartley. The exhibition thus strikes a satisfying balance between provocation and aesthetic refuge.
“Theresa Hackett: Slippery Slope,” High Noon, LES, New York, NY. Through April 22, 2018.
Agnes Martin: A resolutely solitary endeavor
Hilma af Klint at Serpentine Gallery: Sustenance and Possibility
Images: Theresa Hackett
A better bonfire at the Whitney: Painting from the 1980s