The Art Newspaper, "Anthony Haden-Guest's New York" - Anthony Haden Guest

NEW YORK, NY 10002
IMAGE: Ravishing Far/Near, 2013, installation view. Photo: Martin Parsekian HI-RES
On View: November 2 — December 22, 2013
Reception: November 2, 2013   6-8pm
DODGEgallery is pleased to present Ravishing Far/Near, an exhibition of new mixed media work by Sheila Gallagher. This is the artist’s second solo exhibition with the gallery, and will be accompanied by a publication including an essay by Dr. Richard Kearney, Professor of Philosophy at Boston College.

Often inventing specific processes in order to articulate a conceit, Gallagher sews a conceptual thread through diverse mediums. Rich with cross-fertilizations, the resulting works display both a sensuality and a deep investment in contemporary art practice as a form of theological inquiry. In Ravishing Far/Near, Gallagher challenges the stand-off between contemporary art and religion by mining imagery, symbols and examples of mystico-eroticism from Hinduism, Islam, and Judeo-Christian. The resulting "iconomash" is a representation of the desire for spiritual experience to intersect with contemporary secular culture.

Ravishing Far/Near expands Gallagher's exploration of the fertile interplay between the sacred and the profane. The exhibition title was coined by Marguerite Porete, a Christian female mystic who was burned at the stake in 1310 for penning a daring theological treatise on the ecstasy of the soul in love. Inspired by visual and literary examples of sacred eros, including The Gita Govinda, Sufi poetry, and The Song of Songs, Ravishing Far/Near explores the kinship between the spiritual, sexual, and creative through smoke paintings, large plastic reliefs, video, flower installations, and sculpture.

Plastic Glenstal, Plastic Paradisus and Plastic Lila, Gallagher’s plastic painted landscapes, are composed of thousands of melted shards of trash—hotel key cards, detergent containers, bottle caps, toys, party dreck. In these works, Gallagher develops her investigation of the garden as the site of the theo-erotic encounter in various wisdom traditions. Plastic Glenstal represents a walled garden that Gallagher visited at a Benedictine Abbey in Limerick, Ireland where for several decades monks have been collecting and cultivating the plant life mentioned in the Bible. To the existing barley, cedars, figs, and artichokes, Gallagher has added rose of sharon and lilies, references to the lovers in The Song of Songs where the female self-identifies as an "enclosed garden", a place where sexual love is sanctified and protected.

Similarly while there are no figures in Rasa, Gallagher's video of a three-dimensional miniature model of an 19th century Kangra painting also addresses the blending of human and divine love. Gallagher’s constructed set, including hand-painted walls and bonsai plants, is slowly engulfed in flames accompanied by a soundtrack sampled from sound clips of love scenes from Western films. Rasa, a Sanskrit word that can be translated as "essence", "juice" or "spiritual rapture", also refers to an emotional response of a viewer evoked by a work of art, a kind of "aesthetic love of love." In Rasa, Gallagher re-imagines an amorous encounter between RadhaKrishna, the love union which exemplifies the highest form of the soul’s ascent in certain branches of Hinduism. Rasa both instantiates the scene and Gallagher's response to the painting, while nodding to the limits of her Western subjectivity.

By bringing to light the innate connections between spirituality and sexual desire through the creative process, Gallagher tackles head-on the long disavowed relationship between contemporary art and religion. Combining imagery and materials that are packed with overlapping metaphorical associations, Ravishing Far/Near invites inner forms of interpretation that are triggered by small experiences of synchronicity. Rethinking the relation between trash and treasure, mundane and sacramental, immanence and transcendence, Ravishing Far/Near invites an affair between contemporary art practice and spiritual experience.