BY Jan Tumlir in Reviews | 01 JAN 98
Featured in
Issue 38

Margaret Honda

BY Jan Tumlir in Reviews | 01 JAN 98

In her most recent show, Margaret Honda submits that all constructive endeavour, whether artistic, architectural or scientific, involves an invasion of solid mass by space and vice versa. Look to nature, you who want to build, she appears to say, and there you will find a production based on erosion. Animals who seek shelter - a place to escape the elements, to feast, to multiply or just sleep - will find holes in the landscape to suit their purposes, or else they will burrow new ones. At one end of the gallery, this point is illustrated by one of the least vigorous examples available: a live turtle approaching a state of mineral inactivity within the pristine confines of a circular, glass-bound 'eco-environment'. Outfitted with a bright lamp and magnifying glass, this piece serves to emphasise the minute encroachments and accommodations the creature has wrought upon its terrain and, more importantly, how it has been transformed in turn. Just in case one were not inclined to check in on a daily basis, Honda offers her own progress report: a vast succession of carefully rendered details on a length of parchment that spills from a nearby desk and falls, folding, to the floor. Apparently, this artistic accounting is ongoing and will continue until either she or the pet expires.

Of course, a turtle has little need for shelter; lugging its heavy home on its back, it is rather a kind of slow motion nomad. Whatever 'facts' can be gleaned from the display will be negated the moment we become aware of the constraining and intrusive nature of our presence there. Knowing this, Honda proceeds nevertheless to forge ahead, just as we have done for centuries - by way of abstraction and metaphor. No matter how disparate their source, she connects one idea to the next in order to show how the fate of the 'hard' sciences has always been interconnected with that of the humanities. She plays with their uneasy union as though with a set of ideological building blocks, to be piled up in a constructive manner or knocked back down.

Periods of cultural upheaval and collapse are of course an integral facet of the Modern experience, as architecture has made especially clear by suddenly reneging on the material world in favour of the ideal. To make way for The New, all past attachments to the Arcadian forest had to be severed - that's the official story, at least. Accordingly, Honda projects the dream of pure, reductive form into a single rectangular block of buffed aluminium that stubbornly claims the floor at the other end of the gallery, perhaps in a somewhat forlorn homage to the geo-extremism of Carl Andre or Mies Van Der Rohe's theory of 'beinahe nichts' (almost nothing). Whatever attention it may still command no longer has much to do with objective perfection or 'presence', however. Ever so slightly lopsided, it refracts our gaze outward into the surrounding space, into the void such 'presence' requires.

Several more rectangular shapes extend from the gallery centre in gridded formation. These resemble the first in scale, but are bright white and shallow, suggesting an even greater compression, a literal pulping of objecthood. Moreover, their sides have been carved and extruded in a manner suggestive of floor plans. In fact, they are modelled on the various parking lots in which Honda has stopped while running her artistic errands. Spotlessly elegant materialisations of dead space, these objects crystallise the paradox that frames this particular exhibition and Honda's production as a whole. The ever-diminishing vacancy that surrounds and separates each individual work is insistently pushed forward and thrown into sharp relief, just as a dull clearing of oil-stained asphalt will sometimes stand out and provide hostile witness to the upward surge and outward sprawl of our cities and suburbs.

Honda raises all the big questions and then wilfully leaves them to dangle vertiginously. As open to the erroneous assumptions of the past as their equally dubious present-day correctives, she forsakes critique in favour of a generous cultural examination. We are placed right back at the starting line; evolution draws back even as it is catapulted forward. At the periphery of Honda's exhibition, a collection of large petri dishes appears to proliferate from the corner - a reminder of our original cells and the full-scale clones that are still to follow. What is, for many of us, an almost unthinkably grotesque scenario of progress is here returned to a familiar source. Two double-portraits of our 'best friend', a single dog divided into four just barely differentiated photographs, becomes an emblem for the simultaneously hopeful and disastrous wish that has propelled us forward from the beginning of time: to split the one into many, to cover the world with ourselves, our works, before we blow it apart.

Jan Tumlir is an author and teacher based in Los Angeles, USA. His latest book Conversations (2020), published by Inventory Press, is a series of dialogues with the artist Jorge Pardo.