Geometric artwork is cold and impersonal. It’s a presumption that artist Heather Gordon is asking you to let go of in her show “Kin” at The Carrack in Durham.
It’s true that Gordon’s new work consists of striped, clustered polygons and networks of crossed lines. But these paintings and taped-off murals are deeply personal portraits of friends, family, artistic collaborators — and of Gordon herself.
Gordon can do pictorial painting. If you sat on a stool in her studio, she could paint a likeness of you. But you can’t just look at a person and tell everything about them. A traditional portrait is a vague expression of character at best, and even then it’s more of a fantasy than a reality.
Gordon has developed a data-driven portraiture in order to represent a person fully, as an accumulation of a lifetime of experiences rather than a mere image at one moment in time. As a proxy for that accumulated experience, she records all the places that a person has lived. She enters those geographical locations, and the distances between them, into an origami folding program. Then, she paints the program’s output — a set of hinged planes and intersecting lines.
As a representation of personal information, Gordon sees these paintings as a better record of life than a traditional portrait. After all, a seismograph readout is a better representation of an earthquake than a picture of people pointing at a crack in the ground. With each place you live, you change. When a new data point is added to the program’s input, the resultant folding pattern changes drastically.
Gordon describes her new works as more like maps or rugs. “There’s a story in the rug. They get rolled up and taken with a family every time they move,” she says. Eventually, they become akin to heirlooms.
The work in “Kin” covers different media — painting, tape murals on different surfaces, sculpture, text — but it all has a consistent geometric look. Each image is singular, but with an internal complexity of polygons in tight formation, often striped.
Gordon has produced every aspect of this show for the confines of The Carrack, treating the gallery itself as a kind of three-dimensional canvas in order to craft a holistic viewer experience.
You’re in “Kin” even before you enter the gallery. The stairwell to the Carrack offers an installation piece. Once inside the gallery proper, a transparent, hanging work on styrene greets you. Five large, square paintings — portraits of Gordon and her family — hang on the brick wall on one side of the space. A large-scale wall mural occupies the other wall.
The black floor has also been transformed into a tape piece with choreographer Justin Tornow’s COMPANY, which will perform a new, collaborative dance work in the space both Saturday nights of the exhibition. Interactive envelopes of “Read Me” text, located on pedestals throughout the gallery, give viewers opportunities for contemplative pause.
Gordon is pushing hard in “Kin,” testing the painted surface, the rendered form, and even the moving body in space to see what information and emotion they can hold and, more importantly, convey.
“Kin” by Heather Gordon
The Carrack Modern Art
Through Aug. 15
Opening Reception: Fri., Aug. 7, 6 to 9 p.m.
Artist’s Gallery Talk: Thurs., Aug. 13, 7 p.m.
Dance segments from “The Value of Words #15/5,” a collaborative project with Justin Tornow and COMPANY: Sat., Aug. 8 & Aug. 15, 7 to 9 p.m.