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Art review: Annie Vought at New Image Art

July 22, 2011 |  6:00 am

Annie Vought BallooningText messages come and go with a chime, a ding or a whoosh, and we bother little with the traces they leave behind. Unless, of course, the sender is an elected official engaged in salacious, visually enhanced chat. Or the Oakland-based artist Annie Vought, some of whose new work is based on her texts and those of others. Vought made a striking impression in a three-person show at the now-closed Tarryn Teresa gallery downtown in 2009, with her re-creations of old, handwritten letters in cut paper. Excising the negative space between the paper’s lines and the hand’s marks left the script hanging in sheets of delicate tracery, vulnerable yet enduring.

Vought’s first solo show in L.A., at New Image Art, is small but equally stunning. All five cut-paper pieces involve the translation of one form of communication into another, profoundly different, setting off a cascade of transformations and reversals. The resulting works are manual feats, optical wonders, conceptual and emotional provocations.

In one of the pieces derived from text messages, a burst of teardrop-shaped speech bubbles bursts in all directions from a vacant center. “Ballooning. I mean Hellooo” is a gorgeous scramble of ordinary chitchat, an ebullient spray of quotidian poetry: I will inevitably get old; You go devil girl; What should we bring?; K; The person who has been watching you from the bushes; Plz forgive me; Thanx dude; Later. Vought cuts the letters and their capsules from a single sheet of black paper and pins it to the wall, allowing enough space for the slim lines of the writing to cast a comparably fine web of shadows, the interplay like a fugue of sound and echo.

Text messages are efficient, ephemeral, expendable. Vought alters them fundamentally, spending inordinate time sculpting the tossed-off missives into precise, precious, physical relics. She prolongs the instantaneous and fixes the fleeting. “Please Be Quiet Please,” a messier jumble of acronyms, emoticons and pleas — where are you? can we talk? its too NOISY to talk—suggests a room crowded with sound, but even more so a private, internal cacophony. “I am listening to Depeche Mode Loud” relays an exchange of notes, like the scribbles surreptitiously passed by students in class, but this dialogue started in a generic font on a tiny screen. In translating the messages from digital to analog, Vought restores the intimacy of each voice, rendering it in idiosyncratic handwriting, complete with sloppily formed letters and what appear to be splotches of ink. 

Annie Vought I am ListeningWith grace and impeccable finesse, as well as a coy sense of humor, Vought extends the tradition of artists who regard language as a visual phenomenon (think Bruce Nauman, Joseph Kosuth, Lawrence Weiner). She states on her website that she’s interested in “emotional artifacts,” and like a cultural anthropologist, she finds all varieties of expression to be significant and worth preserving. In her installation, “Namaste Kokopelli,” she elevates disparate snippets of bathroom graffiti into concrete poetry, scattering the self-indulgent scrawls and coarse doodles in all directions across the wall, like an automatic drawing, a black stream of consciousness trickling across the white surface. A delicious subversiveness threads through Vought’s work, in her resistance to expediency and haste, her embrace of the slow, deliberate craft of the hand, the tenderness of her attention to even the most casual remark, her drawing out the personal from the impersonal, and her underlying belief that all of it matters.

-- Leah Ollman

New Image Art, 7908 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 654-2192. Through Saturday.

Photos: Annie Vought, "Ballooning. I mean Hellooo," top; "I am listening to Depeche Mode Loud," bottom. Credit: New Image Art