The hollow, the thread

What is the full volume of a person—what hollowed-out shape in the world might they leave behind? Perhaps the negative space of someone can be traced through the objects in their wake: a pock-marked conch shell; a handful of cracked, browning bison teeth; a large, monochromatic abstract canvas. Who might have owned all these things, recognized their value? There are also some ambivalent memories of scattered phone calls and hospital visits. Medical equipment in utilitarian chrome and that particular shade of aging yellow-white plastic, industrial skeletons left reaching for a sick body to scaffold and support. Abby McGuane charts these objects across carefully rendered grids in her paintings, stretched linen coated in cool grey soapstone dust. Perhaps there is—was—someone at the centre of them.

It’s fitting that McGuane’s previous show at Zalucky Contemporary—Tableaux Extant (2018)—was concerned with the contours of a body, her body, its negative space rendered in pastel hues. In The hollow, the thread, the uneasy silhouette of someone else materializes through these peculiar configurations of keepsakes and hospital armatures. Coppery tendrils snake between them like arteries, intravenous drips, or conductive wiring, as if there’s leftover energy to be found charging through each object. As if they could communicate something of their former owner—the body they once surrounded, cared for, constituted—if we could only tap in and listen.

Amongst McGuane’s paintings in the gallery, small vessels hewn in alabaster and soapstone are arranged across the floor. They’re emesis basins (or kidney bowls), familiar in hospitals for disposing of soiled dressings and miscellaneous biological waste. In the case of The hollow, the thread, these vessels are seemingly empty, although their contents are not lost: the excess powdered soapstone was used to coat the base of McGuane’s painted works, transmuted from three- to two-dimensional planes. Like a conch shell left behind from a lost relative, these basins seem to straddle many states at once: somehow both hollow and impossibly full, both ordinary and precious, both known and totally indecipherable.

I’ve been looking at images of McGuane’s in-progress paintings taken with my phone in her studio. I scroll one too far; the next picture in my Camera Roll had been quickly taken the following morning on my way to work—an empty cicada exoskeleton still clinging to the red-brick exterior of my apartment building. There’s a clean slice down the middle of its coppery, translucent back, warping slightly over a recently evacuated interior. It’s another unfolding silhouette, another volume of air where a body used to be.

– Daniella Sanader

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