More on Mary

by Rob Phelps

Introduction to Background

It is necessary from the outset in confronting the Female Background work to move beyond all of the commonplaces about elevating the familiar into the aesthetic sublime. This kind of talk completely misses the point. Likewise, the all-too-familiar agnosticism with regard to “meaning” met with again and again among critics and admirers (especially fellow-artists) whose recourse to purely technical or craft-specific evaluations, remaining (one might say with an almost allergic defensiveness) at the level, at best, of literal description, at worst, tautology (“the work is the work”) should be resisted in no uncertain terms. “Labor intensive,” “meticulously wrought,” or (bluntly) “minimalist” default overwhelmingly as the favored designations of work that-despite the fullness of its material presence as well as the ascetic relationship it maintains with “writing” -in no way holds aloof from “metalinguistic ramifications.” To remain at this level is to do the work a disservice.

The plethora of means at Female Background’s disposal, as well as the diversity of its subjects, belies, not eclecticism, but an entrenched singularity of purpose. All of the confused talk about the artist’s “relationship with representation” is misleading, here. Female Background’s is the originality, intellectual sureness and precision of a gesture neither of abstraction nor concretion (nor for that matter of attending to what is mundane in order to illuminate/transubstantiate it), but precisely of depicting what Female Background aptly refers to as “background,” in itself, as background. The significance of this gesture should not be overlooked. The “object” we meet with again and in Female Background’s works, be it textile, drawing, video, or collage -this invariably dense, invariably gorgeous, minimally structured, and materially replete ”lamination,” consisting, variously, of hair, clothing, beds, landscapes, domestic interiors, etc. -should be grasped as none other than: the impossible moment of representation, itself, arrested (Where this is otherwise impossible) in the vanquished margins of experience, magnified and explored in all of its contradiction, emotion, complexity and depth. Herein, we should say-the aesthetically fertile intersection of the Thing with its Name; the “formless plenitude” merging with the Sign that evacuates it -lies the preliminary (but in no way exhaustive) meaning of “female background.” It is in this tension (summarized in a different register by the term, subjectivity) that we should begin to abide in hopes of drawing nearer to a body of work whose unmistakable ambition -as in everything great- coincides with its seemingly limitless capacity for nuance.