White has a positive dynamic. So does 'big'. The evidence of extreme and precise labour is a cause for admiration and so is the embodiment of originality. All of these factors are present in the hanging paper installations of Angiola Churchill. The coupling of grandeur and delicacy causes amazement and a fairytale rush of pleasure when one first sees one of her sculptural installations.
That the pieces are made by a woman and express a female sensibility seems obvious. The work is substantial and comes from a long and arduous art practice, a feminine trek in an area inhabited by more muscled beings. There is nothing hard nosed about Churchill's work, although she has pioneered in her role as a female artist alongside the others - Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Elizabeth Murray - working large canvases, producing stacks of drawings, developing her thematic trends and enlarging upon them. The twisted paper work set her apart from the bold and colourful female abstract expressionists. Churchill brought a womanly craft up and out for women had traditionally been the weavers, knitters, lace and macramé makers of yore. Their hands ever busy, the practical duties of providing clothing, warmth, gathering, and cooking joined with their natural inclination to beautify the necessities. Hence, the flowery vines of lace or embroidery and the repetitive patterns of knitting, basketry or weaving invoked worlds beyond the confines of the utilitarian.
There is also an aspect of righteousness in these works as if there were an echo of mantras, holy chants, magic intonations or the slipping of beads on a rosary where the tactile counting keeps track of the prayers. The relationship between the manual task of making these pieces, the folding and twisting of paper, to the large space that they eventually occupy is similar to the use of the maze as a meditation tool or the mandala as a collection point for universal forces. By mentally entering the mandala and moving toward its center, one is guided through the cosmic processes of disintegration and reintegration. There are also technological overtones with computer circuit boards or microcosmic and macrocosmic imaging systems coming to mind. Churchill's pristine gardens, intricate mazes and spidery webs engage our fancy and like dream catchers send us on positive paths of thought.
Professor Emeritus and founder of New York University's Venice Masters Program, Angiola Churchill's floor to ceiling paper installations twist the preconceptions of paper as sheet, as plane, as two dimensional surface and instead create a labyrinth of sculptural space. The work, monumental in size, occupies the space with a presence akin to that of an elegant beauty.
Copyright © 2007, Julie Oakes