Ann Shostrom

A Way Beyond Enclosed Space

Cydney M. Payton

For more than thirty years Ann Shostrom has created mixed media paintings and installations that rework processes — dying, sewing, embroidering — historically associated with the labor of women and craft into fine art. Her methods have engaged an almost indexical host of abstract and representational references including Post Impressionism, Abstraction Expressionism, Pop, Graffiti, and Conceptualism. Beginning in the 80s Shostrom sought to bring modernist representation into abstraction much like the American artist Terry Winters. To achieve this effect she depicted the visual containment of nature by acknowledging its subjugation under the term landscape. By presenting nature as landscape—a studied, analyzed or authored text—Shostrom began to reach for what geographer Denis Cosgrove terms as an “antiscientific humanistic geography.” At this time Shostrom also looked to concepts of interiority centered on the nuances of geometries of light, a way of seeing that can summon images by French painter Pierre Bonnard. 

In Fusion, we see the continuation of Shostrom’s exploration of art historical methodologies and the subjects of landscape and interiority with a greater focus on their political undercurrents. The exhibition offers an array of representational and abstract effects through fields of color; stitched words, patterns, and decorative motifs; and discarded clothes and undergarments. With this foundation Shostrom enters the parallel universes of capitalism and globalism through materials and processes. Incised, torn, and shredded cloth, leather, linen, and canvas, reveal various bits of information to underscore their histories and use value. Importantly Shostrom addresses the specificity of white cube architecture through new structural constructions. She defines this procreant effort as Fusion. 

The term fusion immediately conjures atomic and improvisational energies and responses, an amplified togetherness. In Fusion we see explosive spatiality through Shostrom’s saturated canary yellows, international oranges, aubergines, and fuchsias. With such amplitude Shostrom’s paintings recall the Tropicalia movement in Brazil. Specifically Shostrom’s elaborate and rhythmic composition Fandango draws on the orchestral visual montage of Hêlio Oiticica’s Parangoles from the mid 60s. Here Shostrom’s layers and layers of cloth create a sense of human occupation much like Oiticica’s idea of the body-event. In Shostrom’s conceptualization of occupation in Fandango the body-event extends more towards the geographical and the larger spectatorship of globalization. 

In the work Cana six strata erupt from a white bed sheet mantle. The title, Cana, comes from an abbreviation of the word Canadian found on a coffee bean bag in the upper right hand corner of the work but is also the site of Jesus’ first miracle turning water into wine and a Canadian brand of fashion and military boots. The central structural element in Cana is a paint-splattered remnant from the studio floor of a representational painter. Shostrom refers to the object as a paint rag. This paint rag offers the only evidence of art produced from brushstrokes throughout Fusion; it hangs like an animal skin in the life-giving embrace of two blood-colored angular scraps. These two scraps frame the paint rag and its forest of pigmentations. With the introduction of a black and red boot with a broken stiletto heel, Shostrom gestures towards a violent subtext. The limpid boot is situated under a ruffled skirt made from a used leather purse. The skirt conceals and positions a reading of the abstract expressionistic paint rag as dominant and yet, also prey. An elongated shape destabilizes the composition of Cana. Identified by Shostrom as a guillotine for Marie Antoinette, the portentous shape moves both towards the threshold of the painting and falls into the architectural space of the white wall. 

In Glück auf reise! Shostrom reinvents the map of the world on Victorian linen that she names as a “traveling cloth.” She admits that the idea of a traveling cloth might be real or imagined. The title of the work, Glück auf reise! is rooted in the German Viel Glüeck auf der Reise meaning good luck on your journey. Embroidered onto the original linen the words remind us that the traveling cloth was once a gift and remains embedded with the social conditions of gifts. This sentiment between the gift giver and the receiver, calls into question the nature of gift economies and their inequities. The idea of the traveling cloth speaks not only to immigration and displacement but also to philosophical concepts of gifts (things) and human nature developed by Theodor Adorno when he was living in exile in Los Angeles. Shostrom mirrors Adorno’s thinking by fusing the warmth of language found in Gluck auf reise! with a commentary on the unspoken distortions of power in exchanges. 

Shostrom’s reenactment of the history of craft is visible in Glück auf reise! She has embellished various moments in the traveling cloth where hand-stitched words, floral petals and leafs invite intimate viewing. She has also taken the lacuna of the fragile cloth and torn into it to further its visual wattage. Through this engagement with materiality Shostrom emphasizes the skill of anonymous makers that generate imaginings of Victorian sewing rooms and other interior sites where things are made.  More importantly she has created a new world map of continents and islands that recalibrate the landmasses of Africa and Asia to dominate. This new globalism is represented in an international orange tiger-striped pattern hewn from a recycled shirt once worn by a man. Shostrom seems to suggest that the affront of colonization launched with the great age of travel be rectified by radical geography, a lesser touristic imprint.

The painting Cascade encapsulates Shostrom’s gifts for abstraction and spatiality. This vision of clouds of smoke and cannon fire materializes through the tints of the dyed and stained canvas. It offers an elaborate landscape of embroidered shards loosely bound by the smudged atmosphere. While abstract, Cascade provokes by being a demonstration of the complicated nature of Shostrom’s artistic labors. With such a display of labor we consider globalization and the worlds of fashion and industry.  

There are many works with undergarments throughout Fusion but Marketplace presents a startling feminist thematic built from a catalogue of images of underwear, bras, t-shirts and slips. Each garment appears preserved or petrified through Shostrom’s process of dying and transforming. The figures are ghostly; they loft in a parade of Pop yellow flower-dabs. The overall impression is that of looking down on the work from above creating an image of a feral and fecund landscape. This textual narrative brings attention to the action of the figures and their acrobatic performance against the bruised colored field, a conquering statement. 

Lastly, Shostrom’s Portrait expands her structural and architectural thinking through a type of cubist construction in cloth. The geometries are domed yet flattened; a vibrant orb with stitched detail juts away from the wall and slopes into a rectangular frame. Brought into dialogue with other thematics in Fusion such as geography, feminism, globalism and architecture, Portrait reflects on the art historical. The central figure forms a kind of dual investigation into modernism. Here we envisage the mask-like figures of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon alongside Francis Bacon’s Self Portraits from the 60s. By bringing forward such art historical references, Shostrom suggests that fusion can confer a singular destiny on an object but, as a process, politicizes materials and forms into contemporaneity.

March 26, 2014