Hyperliminal: Where We All Live Now
Posted December 16th, 2021 by Camille LeFevre
In a recent show at Form + Content, Kathryn Nobbe and Philip Blackburn ruminated on being in-between through 2D works, sculpture and sound
Liminal is the state in which many of us find ourselves right now, as the certainties of western life, what we might call the givens, increasingly fall away. As all that we might have assumed to be “solid melts into air.”
There’s more to Marx’s celebrated phrase, and it’s worth quoting here with a few annotations to bring its meaning into 2021: “All that is solid melts into air, [i.e., jobs, careers, financial security, health care, physical safety], all that is sacred is profaned, [ex: government, democracy, common decency, personal agency] and man [sic] is at last compelled to face with sober senses his [sic] real conditions of life [climate change, ongoing pandemics, white supremacy] and his [sic] relations with his [sic] kind [e.g. white supremacy, political divisiveness, hetero-hegemony, toxic masculinity].”
If we’re tired, angry, frustrated, dizzy, it’s no surprise. But liminality needn’t always be a negative state. The anthropological definition of liminality (from the Latin meaning “threshold”) includes existing in a nebulous middle stage during a rite of passage or a change to something else. It’s a period of transition. We’re between, in-between, the past or previous ways of structuring our identity and/or sense of community or what we hope to create for our future. As individuals and as communities.
As if that weren’t enough, consider adding hyper to that liminal state. Panic-inducing, yes. But, also, the point at which, if we haven’t already, we turn to art. For solace, for direction, for inspiration, for reflection, for meaning. All of which was present in the recent exhibition at Form+Content Gallery, HyperLiminal: Exploring In-Betweenness, An Inter-media Collaboration by Kathryn Nobbe and Philip Blackburn.
Installation view of Blackburn's Breath+Skin sound installation (at right: birchbark, metallic ink, light, sound transducers, and 29 minute audio) and Nobbe's mixed media works.
Let’s start with Blackburn’s atmospheric, ethereal sound score, which surges and recedes from speakers housed in his hand-crafted birch-bark cylinders, the “skin” of which has been inscribed inside with mysterious symbols, and which are strung through with thick electrical cables along a tree limb. Just as the score melds the electronic with the acoustic (string instruments?) and natural (insect sounds?), so does the work reflect an intersection of technology and nature that’s all too familiar.
Below this hanging piece? Crystalline “rocks” in blue and green, gathered into curves, appearing like a flowing stream. Where does one artwork end and another begin? What is representative and what’s abstraction? Here’s where Nobbe’s work comes in.
Large long wall-hangings depict richly painted shapes that release their energy in long lines of color; in one work, into a deep blue pool, in another into two streams that flow right off the paper and down onto the floor and across the gallery. Beneath these two works are also piles of white debris, a granular substance resembling blown-in insulation or crumbled chalk, into which are embedded black stones and glittering rock not unlike yellow quartzite.
Top: Installation view of Kathryn Nobbe, HyperLiminal VII (reecho XIV, 2021), mixed media (Ink, watercolor, Golden acrylic media and paint, chalk, pencil ) on Hahnemühle German Etching Paper, 44 x100." Bottom: Installation views of HyperLIminal I (blu- cataract) + 3D details; ink, watercolor, pencil on watercolor paper, 118 x 44"; charcoal, perlite, and tomatillo and ground cherry husks on floor; 2021. Charcoal lines extend the length of the gallery floor.
The work, it seems, can’t be contained within the traditions of the frame, or the wall. Wall, floor, and space itself combine in surprising ways, breaking through their own boundaries, erasing the notion of where one work ends and another begins. Similarly, in Nobbe’s other pieces, imagery springs from its two-dimensionality on paper to the wall where it becomes sculptural. Intricate drawings appear, at first glance, like a wire mesh bent or contorted or folded into itself to create organic, albeit alien, shapes.
In their press material, the artists said they “encourage visitors to investigate the entire space, finding the in-between places and making their own interpretations from the multi-sensory elements that go beyond visual to include sound, spatial relationships, touch, and smell.” What if, however, the work is viewed and reviewed, fittingly, from a place of liminality? In a geographic locale far from the gallery in which the exhibition occurred? Not in the urban North, but a small desert town in the Southwest? And moreover, from a computer?
Video documentation by Philip Blackburn.
“Conceptually, the work explores metaphorical relationships of the human body as mother earth in transition, simultaneously vulnerable and resilient,” the artists wrote. That may be so. Perhaps more so if viewed in person.
And yet, as a pandemic continues and we struggle to adapt to all of the political and cultural liminality in which we currently exist, an exhibition like this one serves to, most of all, remind us of how boundary-less creativity can be, how nature and culture — when reflected as inextricable — can confirm the potency inherent to liminality, and how art viewed on a screen can be as evocative and inspiring as that seen live. Liminal is where we all live right now. ◼︎
Kathryn Nobbe, HyperLIminal IV (Autopsia XIV), mixed media (Ink, watercolor, pastel chalk, pencil ) on Arches watercolor paper, 30” x 22,” 2021.
HyperLiminal: Exploring In-Betweenness was on view at Form + Content Gallery from October 28 - December 4, 2021. On Instagram, you can follow the gallery @formcontentgallery and Kathryn Nobbe @k.nobbe.art. For more info on Philip Blackburn, visit philipblackburn.com.
Banner image: Kathryn Nobbe, HyperLIminal VII (thresholds III) (detail), Ink, watercolor, pencil on Arches watercolor paper, 30” x 22," 2019. All images courtesy of the artists.