Sign Painting and Image: Mike Yaniro at Room East
Mike Yaniro at Room East
November 3 to December 15, 2013
41 Orchard Street
New York City, 212-226-7108
Mike Yaniro’s debut solo show at Room East consists of eleven wall-mounted works, which exist in some cosmological place between drawing, painting, and sculpture. The pieces varyingly traffic in recognizable language, figurative images, and obscure, process-based forms. Ultimately, what keeps them from fitting easily into an established artistic category–especially that of drawing–is the same characteristic that could be said to unite them: a persistent and formally esoteric philosophical logic.
There are four identifiable series in the show. The upstairs gallery features two similarly-sized rectangular text-centric works installed in the center of adjoining walls, and between them, a pair of graphite drawings on paper which portray high-contrast renderings of what appear to be hands and fingers. On a third wall there are two framed works on stretched latex that each crudely depict eight line-drawn versions (or is it stages?) of a caricatured animal-like form. In the downstairs space, four unframed abstractions, also on latex, present a formal and thematic counterpoint to the latter. In the center two-thirds of these large-sized hanging latex sheets, hazy clusters of rectangular grey impressions have been printed.
In contrast to the majority of word-based art, Yaniro’s pieces are not immediately “readable” on either a conceptual or a linguistic level. In the two examples upstairs and a third downstairs, flat monochrome fields of acrylic (red, beige, and grey) are interspersed with stenciled-out snippets of word-forms, numbers, and punctuation. These figures make little syntactical sense in any way one might try to read them; for instance “URAccato” runs into ”91/151/”, line break: “ADR/rid SPRAY.” Ultimately though, something emerges in their lack of lucidity. A few words or recognizable fragments of words, such as “Spray. “Local.” “Plate.” “Exhau,” seem to reference technical writing and industrial objects. The strangeness of this is complimented by something unorthodox in the facture of the objects; the substrate of the work is off-white PVC plastic sheeting commonly utilized in sign-making, and it shows through where the letter shapes have been masked off.
These pieces are almost commercial signage turned inwards, and an association is bridged between their non-communicativeness as artworks and the ubiquitous world the material and the language comes from. By and large, the works in the show seem to result from something similarly searching and analytical. Just as the red beige and grey pieces fixate on language, other equally abstract works can be said to linger over the dynamics of imagistic representation. The untitled hanging latex pieces downstairs, created through the transfer of xerox toner onto rubber sheeting, at first glance resemble indefinite printerly accretions. In actuality, the impressions are formed from a mimetic practice in which Yaniro transfers specific images from his personal archive unto the surface of the latex. But this process is an operation that in technical terms doesn’t work; the selected images lose their content, and what we are left with is the distinctive knotty and textured amalgamations of their traces.
The work tests the communicative potential of the subject matter and processes at hand, and in the resulting deformations–in other words, all of the pieces–there is an inherent, latent psychology. This manifests distinctively in the two framed works that feature repetitive drawings of rabbit or snail-like forms, described in thick ink lines (Rickling 1 and Rickling 2, both 2013). The figures are derived from facsimiles of drawings found in a historical book detailing the outlawed practice of psychotherapy in Nazi Germany. Without knowing the charged images’ meaning or derivation, Yaniro has reproduced it in a manner that builds on its mysterious but purportedly therapeutic back-story.
It is not easy to delineate a single meaning or endpoint to the work. Potential references and intimations of emotion cycle through it in spite of the austerity. But as is the case with the Rickling drawings, the art inhabits a crossing-place between culture, the objects found in the wider world, and an individual’s cogitation of symbols, images, and messages. This all stands somewhat in contrast to the seductive and purportedly meaningful surfaces that seems to dominate the work of many young artists. Yaniro uses language and images to conflate symbol with gesture in a way that palpably relates to Jasper Johns’ maps, flags, and cast faces. Another artist called to mind is Bruce Nauman, whose work seems also to prevalently break down communication, most often to the underlying human urgencies of internalizing and externalizing.
Yaniro’s work could also be said to advance a root awareness of the borders of a self. The most clearly defined figurative representations in the show can be understood as a coda to this idea. The drawings Caric 1 and Caric 2 (both 2013) depict close-ups of fingers and sharply defined fingernails in the midst of uncertain tasks or gestures. Because of something strange and clinical in the perspective, what should be familiar and human appears foreign and uninhabited. The image is clear and isolated but the subject is deconstructed.