In the publishing industry, there is surely no greater indignity than the pulping of unsold books. If optimism for a manuscript fails to translate into sales then covers will be removed, glue dissolved, pages shredded, words lost. As the pursuit of monetary profit overpowers the false economy of cultural capital, the dissociated labour of writers is erased, reconstituted and handed out as blank paper sheets. Not lost, per se, but no longer seen.
In Emma Soucek’s work, pulp is a far richer resource. Soucek principally makes use of dyed paper pulp to create thick washes of colour that sit somewhere between abstraction, collage and a reanimation of old things overlooked. Responding directly to the organic movement of her macerated pulp – the fading of its hues; the relaxing of its contours – Soucek folds in found material and references to the work of other artists in order to build hazy, pooling compositions that seem reluctant to hold their form. (“A lot of the time, says Soucek, “the paintings seem to determine what they say”.) As is evidenced by the accumulative four-panel Larry X Said: Food, Shelter, Clothing, Everything Else is a Blessing (2020), itself a thick layering of pulp, oil, needlepoint, graffiti and the paintings of William Hawkins, this is less painting with thickness and colour than painting thickness and colour itself. It is less an inventive process of recycling than an active contemplation on the logic of reuse, reinterpretation and the transferral of embodied knowledge.
Alongside Soucek’s Larry X … is a selection of textiles, collaged portraits and ghostly drawings by Utē Petit, another for whom discarded materials and inherited knowledge are central. Petit’s grandmother and great grandmother were quilters in Mississippi; for “If There Was a Way I Could Lay All the Trash Out”, the New Orleans-based artist has continued their work, paying homage to the family craft while using its visual language to capture and communicate a contemporary lived environment. The colour block strips of Evil Travels in Straight Lines (2020) were retrieved from the derelict Lucky Inn Hotel in New Orleans; Scabs from the Sidewalk (2020) overlays material salvaged from the streets of New York and Detroit with samples from the artist’s grandmother. “I like to see if this material will survive being put through a sewing machine”, says Petit. Whether it will survive, unravel, take on a whole new visual language.
Soucek and Petit are artists interested in the reappraisal of salvaged things. Whether through pulping, collage or quilting, they each embrace discarded (physical, emotional, personal) materials and reconsider their place in the world, thumbing at their fibres to determine which new forms they might take. As such, the works collected within “If There Was a Way I Could Lay All the Trash Out” speak to a delicate process of preservation through reinterpretation; to an exchange of social and personal experience that is always in motion but is rarely seen. “It’s always been about rearranging what you have”, says Soucek. Rearrange, reconsider, repeat.
–Harry Thorne, London, 2020
Utē Petit was born in 1995 in Southfield, Michigan and lives and works in New Orleans. They received their BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence) in 2018. They have been included in exhibitions at New Orleans African American Museum (New Orleans), Oakland Avenue Urban Farm (Detroit), and Library Street Collective (Detroit). This is their first time showing with Loyal.
Emma Soucek was born in 1996 in Long Beach, California and lives and works in New York. She received her BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (Providence) in 2018. She has been included in exhibitions at Safe Gallery (New York) and Loyal Gallery (Stockholm). Loyal first exhibited Soucek’s work in our 100! exhibition celebrating our 100th show and 15 years.