Robin Rice Essays
On first impression, the sleek, color-infused glass Pamina Traylor displays with engraved text on steel is almost too sumptuous: lush, curling forms which, on the one hand, are typical of hot-worked glass, and which, on the other, push its fluid sinuosity to an extreme. A closer look at the metal tablet which often completes the work of this Spring, 2003 Resident Fellow of the Creative Glass Center of America, introduces a counterpoint, an element of intellectual speculation: experience distanced and distilled. The engraved words on squared-off steel wall panels are cursive but legible, except where they are magnified and distorted by thick baroque masses of glass. So, while Traylor's calligraphic flourishes of glass may suggest an eighteenth-century flourish of the quill, the writing on the wall conforms to school-book standards of regularity. Which communication is more personal, more intimate: the langage of glass or the language on metal?
You won't talk with Traylor about her work for long before she mentions the psychoanalytic critic Jacques Lacan, though she is not a slavish follower of Lacan's ideas. In his reworking of Freudian theory, Lacan depicts the infant self (signifier) becoming conscious of its mirrored self as an entity (signified), a reflected image which to the infant understanding appears unified but is ultimately fragmented.
For Lacan, the child's sense of a unified self is shattered by the entry of the father into its relationship with the mother. It is forced to recognize that, as a singular being, it is defined by a difference from the father. This understanding occurs at around the time the child begins to speak. The mastery of language requires a comprehension that a thing (sign) is defined by its difference from other things and by lack. In simplistic terms, the child (and later the adult) tends to name that which it desires (and does not have). The self emerges split between conscious behavior and unconscious or repressed desire, a reality echoed in the nature of language itself. The metaphoric and metonymic character of language condemns it to endless falsity, a kind of concealment of the very meaning it intends to convey. Traylor says in her artist's statement, "[Lacan] writes that 'the function of language is not to inform, but to evoke,' which, for me, holds true for sculpture as well."
The profound contradictoriness of language is relevant in specific ways to Traylor's work. Her mother is Japanese American. At the age of 14 she was interned in the camps of World War II, an event which was not discussed in the family, though her uncle, Yuji Ichioka, who recently passed away, researched and wrote extensively about the camps. Traylor is exploring this episode in her family history. She plans to use the forms of tongues in a series -- perhaps a large installation -- relating to the camps. The completed work will fill a wall with tongues, each linked to a specific text. "For so long they held their tongues and now people are starting to talk about it." Traylor hopes to complete the installation with fabric, tent cloth, as well as photographic images from the specific camp where her family was interned, and to incorporate autobiographical writings of former internees.
The fluid mass of glass is, for Traylor, feminine; The weighty geometric slab of steel behind it is masculine: an opposition united and completed in a work of art. She likes to repeat the same object many times until an appropriate formula emerges. After working with a clear glass tongue superimposed on engraved metal text, she decided that the text was too easy to read. She switched to blue glass -- and at least one example in grey -- to make the reader work harder to decipher the text. The tongue, so fundamental to our ability to communicate verbally, here obscures, as language itself does in Lacan's theory. Traylor's first CGCA residence in 1995 was "very productive." One reason she wanted to return in 2003 was to have access to colored glass directly from the furnace. Here she can make blue or grey tongues and other pieces solid-worked in color. The metal elements will be completed following her residency.
Stylistically linked to the tongue works is an earlier and continuing series of grouped curly calligraphic units, also mounted against metal wall text. These have almost a musical character, both in their rhythmic interrelationships and in their oblique resemblance to actual musical notation, specifically to the treble clef. An 'S' curve cradling a smallish spiral seems like a mother with a child. But the shapes also have a resemblance to worms or larvae, a blind fleshy quality which is vaguely unsettling. The unyielding geometry of the steel isolates it and makes us aware, as we are in all Traylor's work, of inherent contradictions in even the simplest of communications.
Last modified 03:41 PM 03/04/2008