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Issue 45 March-April 1999 RSS

Pae White

greengrassi, London, UK

For her first UK show Pae White has presented three works whose effortless simplicity might make you a little nervous. They are spare and elegant and have a kind of mute, ambiguous presence. Perhaps it is because of, rather than despite their economy that they appear poised on the edge of communicating some kind of meaning. You feel that if you look hard enough you might get it, that it gradually all might become clear. The significance of individual pieces is not immediately apparent, but emerges slowly, almost unsatisfyingly, as it evades attempts at definition or categorisation.

In Chat (all works 1998) a few lengths of string, threaded at intervals with small cardboard hexagons and hand-painted on each side in complimentary colours, are suspended in a corner of the gallery. Hanging almost ceiling-to-floor it resembles an overgrown wind chime or a variation on a beaded curtain. Yet there is no breeze for it to sway in nor does it invite you to pass through. The title suggests informal conversation and looking at this decidedly handmade work I found myself thinking of some amiable group pastime like quilting or bridge; a bit old-fashioned and for some reason rural, an activity that has as much to do with the social interaction. It conjures up images of winter nights without TV.

A floor piece, Copy-Cat Lap, is a pair of equally sized transparent yellow slabs laid next to each other. Each one is created by layering sheets of plexiglass together with adhesive. The rectangular shape and translucent quality of the materials may allude to a shallow garden pool - a lap pool - yet it looks more like a minimalist sculpture gone wrong. The glue lies in puddles beneath each alternate layer, trapping air bubbles and seeping out of the sides. Such sloppy fabrication isn’t accidental but likewise the imperfection isn’t flaunted - this is no over-ambitious failure. White’s hobbyist approach confounds expectations, taking the chill out of the rhetoric of Minimalism with an alert and unpretentious style which is subtle enough to embarrass you with its luminous confidence.

Summer Sampler is a collection of spider webs, each one sprayed with paint and mounted separately on a different coloured card. More obviously figurative than the other pieces in the show, these framed images are scattered randomly over one of the gallery walls like delicate souvenirs of past summers. The pastel shades and glitter give the collection a childlike charisma reminiscent of primary school handicrafts; making pictures with macaroni or taking a pencil for a walk. Spiders webs are literally ‘homespun’, beautiful, useful and almost invisible, they could be metaphors for domestic production, small scale and personal.

Although she does not take an overtly feminist stance, White’s installation is imbued with a cryptically female affinity, assuming an engendered position by employing a cosy ‘down home’ means of production. Her work is thoughtful, maybe even a little romantic, without being overly precious or cloying. It is somehow more satisfactory, but at the same time troubling, to describe it via negativa. It does not function as a polemic nor as a purely aesthetic statement or even a straightforward mixture of the two. Its air of reticence defies convenient description. The show’s aloofness is perplexing, but still manages to make you want to keep guessing.

Dale McFarland

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First published in
Issue 45, March-April 1999

by Dale McFarland

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