Maria Nordman: At the Start
On ViewMarian Goodman
January 11 – March 5, 2022
Since antiquity, cultures such as the Persians, Mayans, Babylonians, and the Greeks have projected their gods into the heavens, and the constellations have reflected back to us aspects of ourselves. Maria Nordman, in a new series of collages and capes worn in performance, becomes a myth-breaker, taking on the celestial hunter. When Orion declared he would kill every animal in the world, Gaea, the Earth goddess and mother of the Titans, sent a scorpion to kill him. Now Orion, one of the largest constellations in the heavens, containing the brightest stars, posthumously dominates the sky. Nordman wants this mythic thug expunged entirely, and her revisionism is envisioned as an international task, spanning many countries and agencies. In our age of mass extinction, her proposal has an appeal.
Nordman joins Gaea and contemporary feminist theorists like Luce Irigaray in demanding a break from the phallogocentric and imagining a new creation myth. In her “Plato’s Hystera” (hystera is Greek for uterus) from Speculum of the Other Woman (1974), Irigaray advocates that we consider the cave as a place of origins. This is in opposition to the heliocentric view of the outer world as the source of enlightenment. Nordman is advocating a new cosmogonic creation myth for the earth. Located below Orion’s belt is the Orion Nebula, a stellar nursery of sorts. Nordman wants to focus on this M42 nebula area, hoping for a “rebirthing” of our earth, born in these stars. Ancient Egyptians believed Orion's Belt was the resting place for the soul of the resurrected god Osiris, and here we see an implied saving of the World Soul through a change in a creation myth and consciousness. The Earth Birthing (2021–22) and Kuzaa Dunia (2021–22) introduce the theme.
A series of two-sided collages are mounted in hinged frames resting on the floor, to suggest grounding. Each has a title in a different language and contains bark from an Australian eucalyptus tree. One of Kuzaa Dunia’s panels has a text in Swahili, referencing Mary Leakey’s discovery of our ancestral place of origin in Africa’s Odulpai Gorge. Origins have always been important to Nordman, and her Los Angeles MOCA installation, Temple and Alameda (1996–present), is very much about the origin of the city. Creation stories are like blueprints and reveal patterns within the psyche. In our age of environmental catastrophe, her work presents an interesting path for change—we could be birthed in the stars and break our habit of mass extinction.
Maria Nordman and Eric Orr, two of the most important California artists of the late ’60s and ’70s, never fit within the grouping of Light and Space artists: Nordman and Orr produced more conceptual work, which occupied a stretch of the timeline beginning with creation and extending to the present. Both artists were unique in the way they embraced the realms of light and darkness. I first saw Nordman’s work in the Irvine Room (1973), which featured two rooms, one with outside light reflected by a mirror into the interior, and another room with total blackness. Orr also made black rooms in his Venice studio in the ’70s. In the exhibition at Marian Goodman, we see Light Sun (2015), a collage also used in performance. Nordman thinks of the sun as a “primordial presence.” The artist has also insisted that only natural light illuminate the space through the large windows. I viewed the work at Marian Goodman after sundown with the aid of solar-powered flashlights. Here, the night sky constellation formed a dyad with the solar world, as the flashlights project stars from Orion cutouts in the standing panels onto the walls and floor.
Two Standing Pictures (2001–07), resembling window frames on wheels with sliding panels, first shown in New York in 2015, are included in the exhibition. They each contain two sliding panels. The first has drawings related to her FILM ROOM video installation (1967–present). The second contains a panel of fossils and some “Cambrian period” drawings. The fossils in the panel tie in nicely with Nordman’s interest in origins. The drawings are activated by being pulled into the light of the sun or are illuminated by the solar flashlights.
A small room in the exhibition has a table with copies of Geo-Aesthetics/Presencing (2013), an impressive catalogue of the artist’s projects, many of which have been executed in Europe since the ’70s. The scope and quantity of the work is impressive, and the book gives New Yorkers a chance to see her architectural installations and standing pictures. The diagrams shown in the book give us an understanding of how working for Richard Neutra influenced her work. The reprinted conversations with Lawrence Weiner, Meret Oppenheim, and Ian Wilson are added treats.
This small-scale exhibition gives New Yorkers a glimpse into the scale and scope of Maria Nordman’s projects, past and present. Art libraries will hopefully purchase copies of Geo-Aesthetics/Presencing, so scholars who may have missed seeing her European works can understand her impressive legacy.