KATE HARDING: Uphill Downhill Conversation, (Sister)
On View3A Gallery
June 11 – July 9, 2017
I ducked off Canal Street, climbed three flights of stairs of a modest commercial building, and dipped my feet in the rain-swollen waters of Whiskey Creek. This is the state of mind and body imparted by Kate Harding’s Uphill Downhill Conversation, (Sister) (2017)at Chinatown’s 3A Gallery. Harding’s work is about the spirit of things, and the ways that things and beings communicate amongst each other in the spaces between and beyond language. For her, landscapes, animals, and even light are full of information that is available to us if we listen and look. Harding’s current installation asks occupants of the space to sit down and take part in this expanded conversation.
Entering the tiny gallery space, one finds herself in a dimly lit clearing between objects in either corner of the room. To the right, a triangular floor-cushion tidily upholstered in Belgian linen fits into the corner, just large enough for one seated body. In the facing corner is Seen Some Things (2017)—two triangular plywood structures fitted into converging walls, one suspended above the other and both holding screens playing video footage. Above the structures, 100 glass prisms hang from the ceiling, gently blown by an electric fan. The lower structure doubles as a bench, topped with a triangular linen pillow matching the floor cushion opposite. Footage of creek water the color of milky tea rushing past a snag plays at the level of the feet and calves of the person (or persons—if you squeeze a little, you can fit two) occupying the bench. Overhead, the second plywood structure houses a smaller screen that alternates between scenes of a calm wooded stream at dusk and a close-up of a human hand affectionately stroking and scratching the dusty brown flank of a mule. Occupying this body-sized nook between two videos, one looks up to encounter her own image in a mirror fitted to the bottom of the upper video box.
When another body is seated on the cushion at the opposite side of the room, they are positioned for an “uphill downhill conversation,” as the bench is higher than the cushion on the floor. But rather than implying a hierarchy, this arrangement facilitates a casual or even sororal relation between the two positions. Each party has access to a different but related view: the floor-sitter can see the videos, the hanging prisms, and the fan, while the bench-sitter contemplates Tell You What (2017), an installation comprising the floor cushion and a wall piece made of draped and delicately sewn linen. This material references American landscape painting of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Harding positions her work in conversation with this tradition, deconstructing its conception of nature as Other, and humans as its masters: surveying from a position of subjugating knowledge organized and maintained through language.
Harding’s Uphill Downhill Conversation, (Sister) is instead about continuous embodied communication: between the human body and the landscape; the hand and the fur of the winter shaggy mule; the rays of white light refracted through the glass prism. The void, the unfathomable and empty wild conceived by Western culture, is actually teaming with information and interaction—and we are part of it. Harding’s colorful drawings, Divided Landscape #14 and #15 (both 2017), illustrate this buzz of co-being. Delicately drawn branches and winter shrubs reach into the wild pastel atmosphere, conversing over gullies and into the air.
Just above the hustle of the lower Manhattan street ecosystem, Uphill Downhill Conversation, (Sister) represents a clearing in the woods, a place where one can stop, sit a while and feel what Harding calls “the resonance amongst entities in the landscape.” Once one has been there, she finds herself listening for the feeling of atoms jumping back and forth between her body and other objects nearby. She feels the pavement conversing with her feet as her steps measure time and distance from one point to the other.