Tanya Hollis's Parch and Dee Dee Kramer on Hollis

PARCH 2015 (Acrylic paint, plaster, pigment and rust on wood)

During July and early August, Tanya Hollis's PARCH, was on exhibit at the Right Window Gallery (curated by Kevin Killian), on Valencia Street in San Francisco.

The opening for Tanya's show--which sadly I missed because I was out of town--included poetry readings by Norma Cole, Dee Dee Kramer, and Kevin Killian, with the premiere of a new film by Jason Michael Leggiere, Wall of Early Morning Light (2015).

Looking at PARCH, I am reminded of an aerial view of the salt ponds as you fly into the Bay Area. You can't get enough of them. Tanya's work is beautiful and it registers catastrophe. Cracked earth residue in a time of drought. Parch. Your throat tightens. Extremity's rasp. 

Here's what Rob Halpern has to say about this work:

Tanya Hollis’s stunning PARCH offers a horizon from which we can see beyond the perils of our anthropocene. Like homeopathic medicine for the eye, the work’s elemental vision and geologic scale inform a feeling of drought as if transfigured from space, allowing us to see our own condition as if for the first time. Hollis’s sculptural canvases—exquisitely rendered with plaster, acrylic paint, pigment, iron, and salt—are parchments from an archive of the present. You cannot not see this work without risking oblivion (Halpern).

Dee Dee Kramer, poet, artist, archivist, and dear friend of Tanya's wrote a beautiful introduction for Tanya's opening. It traces the entanglements of friendship, art-making, work life, life-making. She's generously shared it with us here:

July 2015
Dee Dee Kramer

It’s funny to be here today, reading with Norma Cole, because a few months ago, when I read Laura Moriarty’s essay on the Poetry Foundation blog about Norma’s group show, I had been thinking about how I might write about Tanya’s work, and now here we are at Tanya’s show, maybe sort of in a similar situation.

How is the situation similar? Mostly, it’s similar because like Norma and Laura, Tanya and I have been friends for a long time, 20 years now. The situation is personal. I knew her before she was a San Franciscan and before she was an archivist. We were collage and garbage artists together in Buffalo. We were going into poetry-debt and wondering what to do for jobs. We decided to go to  library school while working in the Poetry Collection at UB with Michael Basinski. He helped each of us learn to work a job and make art at the same time; in other words, how to play the life game we are given.

I’ve watched Tanya make art all this time, over the course of most of her adult life. I’ve seen her with burlap, and paste, and  massive plastic jars of acrylic gel medium (matte, gloss), rope, rust (we were in the Rust Belt, after all), cellophane tape, sewing patterns, industrial product catalogs, encyclopedias, teeth, and pieces of machinery. A lot of words and newsprint. Canvas, fabric, yarn. Oil paint for awhile-- she got sick from that--the attic apartment (it was a beautiful attic apartment on Baker Street) didn’t have enough ventilation.

So the situation is personal, even to the point of our studios sometimes being in our bedrooms. And not just until we “make it” and move out.

One of the things that comes to my mind when I look at these slabs is Robert Rauschenberg’s “Bed,” but just the mattress-- no pillow or blanket or sheets. No bedding. This makes me think about care and neglect.

Right now, Tanya rents from Rob [Halpern] and Lee [Azus] and lives in their upstairs apartment, four blocks away from me. Last winter, she moved her bed to the smaller room. It had been in the front room, the bigger room with the better light. She talked to me when she was considering that shift, about what it had meant to have the bed in the central living area. What it would mean to move it.

Now that front, light room is her art area, and I’m assuming that’s where she made these pieces. But honestly, she made them so quickly I never saw. Somehow, during a workweek. I mean, it’s always a workweek. You take a couple of days off and then work like hell to finish.

I look at these pieces and I think of the archives (we each work in one now): the mess, the mold, the backlog, the markup language. The reference desk. Mold can be black, reddish, blue-green. If it smears, you’re in trouble because it’s active and will spread to other manuscripts and documents. For this problem, and for innumerable others--flood, dirty data, not enough room--Tanya’s the one who gives me advice on what to do: freeze it, hire someone, buy a shop-vac, use a Magic Rub eraser, use this style-sheet or software, and if you can’t download anything because you don’t have admin privileges, here’s how you do it by hand. Here’s how you talk to your manager. Here’s how you become one so you can get these things done.

We try not to “talk shop” much when we’re not on-the-clock, but it all seeps through.
These slabs show mold and rust, and are also or might be topographical maps that won’t fit into the flat file drawer. I don’t know where she will put them.

So, as I said, the situation is personal, but it’s also professional. Mike taught us how to put on the monkey suit. It’s a suit we break in and own. When I graduated from library school (a semester before she did), Tanya made me a Librarian’s bun and put it in a box with a label. It tied around my head with a blue satin ribbon. It was shellacked. The box was labeled “Librarian’s bun. Kaiser. Everyday wear.”

But I shouldn’t give the impression that we have too much in common, or that we’re together all the time. We’re not. We’ve lived most of these 20 years locally to one another, so we could come over. But often, we don’t see each other for weeks. Maybe that’s part of our intimacy--I know she’s still there even if I don’t see her. And there’s so much I don’t know or understand about her work.

I do understand loving the stuff while at the same time wanting to throw it all away. I understand being tired and wanting to sleep. I am her witness. I understand the threat of exposure. I’ve said that the situation is personal, but it’s also public. That’s how art and poetry are. How painful that can be. Because people can see. And it hurts if they do and it hurts if they don’t. The mortification of “Don’t look!” but also the despair of “No one sees!” As her witness, I see, at least some of it. And so do you. And sometimes, walking by the window, so do strangers.

How can I talk about a friend’s artwork publicly and for her benefit? I’m not sure.

I see the the gunk and adhesives that look like wounds and scabs and bandaids. I see her scratching, ripping, renovating, tearing, repairing, pasting, peeling, painting, knitting, chipping, sewing, brushing, covering, collecting and discarding. Decollage, one of Tanya’s modes, includes the connotations of becoming unglued, or unstuck, also of taking off in flight. This new work gives an aerial view from the ground, which is technically impossible. But here it is.

I read in this book about writer’s block that cynicism is when you don’t like the game as it is played, so you spoil it. It made me think about neglect again. Neglect would be not playing. That’s tempting, and I’m pretty sure we’ve both tried it. But not playing doesn’t work for very long without deadening us internally. So, and maybe this is pat, we come back to play with the spoils. This is how to work a job and make art at the same time (Kramer).