Tamara Henderson

by Jonathan Griffin

REDCAT, Los Angeles

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Canadian artist Tamara Henderson’s exhibition “Seasons End: Panting [sic] Healer” drew on journeys both geographic and psychic, and had all the dislocating strangeness of a theater wardrobe or prop room. The dense agglomeration of sculptures, installations, fabric tapestries, and paintings (all 2016) was an expansion of Henderson’s presentation earlier this year at the Glasgow International, the work for which she began developing during a residency in Arbroath, Scotland, in 2015. Material for the exhibition was also gathered in Turkey; in the sculpture Seasons End Vehicle, a ramshackle motorcar has stuffed into pockets in its trunk a map of Istanbul, in addition to a leaflet listing tourist attractions near Inverness. 

“Seasons End: Panting Healer” produced a kind of waking reverie akin to that which one can fall into while on a journey. This was due in no small part to the labyrinthine exhibition layout itself, which entailed a good deal of navigation and discovery. Seven large patchwork curtains made of multicolored fabrics were suspended from the ceiling, some curved to create shallow alcoves. Interspersed throughout were at least twice as many sculptures in which fabric pieces evoking robes hang on cross-shaped constructions with blocky feet. The garments (which also function as double-sided paintings) are detailed with large fabric eye shapes; pieces of rope, ribbon, or lace; and vertical lines of small fabric rectangles running along their sides, resembling film sprocket holes.

Analog photography was a recurrent motif in the exhibition, alluding in particular to the futile impulse to petrify memories as material facts. Several plastic FotoKem bags are stashed in the trunk of Seasons End Vehicle, alongside canisters for 35mm film. In Los Angeles, analog film inevitably recalls the heyday of the city’s now-declining movie industry. Indeed, days before the exhibition opened, FotoKem, the longstanding Burbank film-processing lab, ceased its twenty-four-hour operation. Seasonal change here clearly goes beyond the regular effects of the tilting earth’s orbit around the sun.

The giant Garden Photographer Scarecrow did not appear to be well. Reconfigured from its standing orientation at the Glasgow International, it lay on a makeshift hospital bed. Its body, made of various materials including textiles, unspooling canisters of Ilford film, twigs, and dried thistle, was crumbling onto the floor. Beside it stood Painting Healer—an angelic figure wearing a white lace robe and a broad-brimmed straw hat and holding a liquid-filled FotoKem bag with a tube emerging from it that tangles around one arm, suggesting an intravenous drip.

Henderson’s exhibition was most vivid not when it receded into the realm of fantastic allegory but when it drew on the more immediate, though no less meaningful, world of everyday objects and experience. If Garden Photographer Scarecrow verges on the sentimentality of children’s allegories, Seasons End, a 16mm film projected from under the hood of Seasons End Vehicle, grounds Henderson’s material choices in the context of her travels. Shots of rope, eggs, patterned fabric, and tabletop still lifes combine with landscapes seen from a moving car and footage of scrubby roadsides. The elegiac film presses home the idea that this entire body of work is concerned less with the demise of film than with decline in a more general, environmental sense—the end of one world coinciding with the end of a means of recording it.

First published: Art in America, January 2017

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