In Carrie Yamaoka’s paintings, hung along the staircase and in all the second-floor rooms of Aeroplastics Gallery in Brussels, there’s something that constantly eludes our grasp: colour, surface, depth, total apprehension, proximity, reflection, the absence of reflection… mastery.  Yes, that’s it, in this “maison de maître”, where the gallery has elected for its home, the mastery eludes the viewer—scrutiny is a function that thus becomes problematic.  Captivated by the glistening beauty of the tableaux that you see, try for example, to photograph them: move sideways, to the limit-point of being able to take in the whole, and right away precisely your image is inscribed in the interior where all becomes blurred.  In a way that the works then exercise, upon you, their “right to look”.

There are no real secrets as to fabrication: one of the artist’s techniques, since some dozen years, “consists of pouring the melted resin into a mould lined with a sheet of reflecting Mylar”.  (Faye Hirsch in the catalogue.   She also underlines the thinness of the paintings’ profiles, no more than a fraction of a centimetre for the resin layer.)  In certain tableaux, there is no added pigment; in others the artist has inserted a cloud of colour and sometimes much more, going towards the opaque even if the identification of the tint remains indecipherable and changeable.

Some of them lie stretched out, others comprise a corner, extending their format laterally across two adjoining walls, and very often imperfections punctuate, less to do with the surface than the production process, of the sort that one never knows at what level the eye is to look, scan, classify.  Here one thinks of certain works by Bernard Frize: Carrie Yamaoka works, as well, beyond the usual binaries of painting (surface/plan, optic/haptic, for example) and remits colour towards other powers than its position on the spectrum.

What is extraordinary is that the corporality of these tableaux are not truly or solely material. To the contrary.  One could say, if pushed, it is all which is not material that renders the corporality: all these effects produced by the most minor of movement on the viewer’s part, that effect the painting and are effected in return; but also, owing to the imperfections inscribed in the process, the undulation of reflections, or their veil.

The connection between Carrie Yamaoka and all these artists from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Roni Horn, who have extended and inverted minimalism, is often underscored, that it has do with a rapport of specific objects of Judd, the use of reflection as with Larry Bell (according to Faye Hirsch), of a “reverent dissection of monochrome” à la Ryman or of a “parodist approach, like Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, which convoke the viewer’s shadow” (according to Roberta Smith).  Less of a connection has been made with dance, and this is perhaps a pity.

Above all, left little emphasized are the implications of this practice in questions regarding identity, genre, sex and sexuality.  It is striking indeed that what opens here is a literally vertiginous space between the factual and the image, deliberately withdrawn or delayed and plays with an “imaginary corporality” where one presses the theoretical limits with, or rather against, the Stade du Miroir (the mirror stage), the one said to be critical to “the formation of the ‘I’.”

Carrie Yamaoka, whose exhibitions date back to the 1980s, has been (is) very strongly involved in the crisis opened by AIDS, at the heart of ACT UP and Fierce Pussy (with Joy Episalla, Nancy Brooks Brody, Zoe Leonard, among others, and which, for that matter, makes a return today, nearly twenty years later).  The critic Dean Daderko, including works by the artist in his exhibition Side X Side (Visual Aids, 2008), rightly cites the words of Gregg Bordowitz in 1988: “The AIDS movement, like other radical movements, creates itself as it attempts to represent itself.”  Even if it is not easy to link the tableaux of Carrie Yamaoka and the matter of her political, social and sexual activism, this articulation nonetheless exists, as this text attempts to demonstrate.

Until 23 December 2009, Carrie Yamaoka Works 2004-2009, Aeroplastics Gallery, 32 rue Blanche, Brussels, 02 537 22 02

(*): "I will have been there after you have already arrived" was the title of the exhibition of  Carrie Yamaoka at Torch Gallery in Amsterdam, in 2007. It is reprised here for the title of this post.

in Brussels, “I will have been there after you have already arrived”