Exo, Elnaz Javani and Annette Hur, curated by Azadeh Gholizadeh at Devening Projects

Devening Projects’ current two-person show Exo featuring the sensorial works of artists Elnaz Javani and Annette Hur, curated by Azadeh Gholizadeh is alluring, invoking haptic sensations. The exhibit is spread between the two rooms of the gallery, artworks adorn both the walls and occupy the floors. Each work in the show makes a revelation of its surface be it muslin, fabric, Korean silk, a bedsheet or a starched white collar and provokes you to think about what that surface would feel like to touch. This acknowledgment of each differing surface reveals how receptive, and in surprising ways, it is to its manipulation. Thread is the mark making material used most often by both artists, but also, ink, acrylic and watercolor. The curator Golizadeh pulls the show’s title from the Greek word exotikos, meaning “foreign”, which comes from the prefix exo, meaning “outside.” As Andrea Lee of the New Yorker states, “All dictionary definitions of “exotic” have two strands: “from a distant place,” and “striking and attractive because unfamiliar.” So, a simple conflation of strangeness and desire”.


Installation view 1


Installation view 2

What is outside of our everyday consciousness becomes desirable. As artists we find that desired strangeness in the exploration of our materials. All our discoveries are made by a collaboration of the mind and hands and dare I say, through play. Both artists in the show, keep their imagery outside of the everyday and unfamiliar by refusing to pin it down or spell it out. And when we recognize something familiar, we are asked to look at it as if we have never seen it before, to make an enigma of the familiar. They desire that we, the viewers, explore what they discovered with their hands with our eyes.  This estrangement or longing for the estrangement of reality is like a butterfly tethered to a leash of silk thread, the string it is almost invisible, but it is a leash all the same. If our awareness and receptors are turned on by an artwork the artist’s invisible leash regulates our distance and reigns in the chatter of our internal monologue, it reminds us not to go too far -don't lose the artist’s thread.

Javani’s red thread like that which Ariadne gave to Theseus, leads us through the exhibit and punctuates. In the main room there are numerous embroideries on the wall, her images are organic shaped forms made up of limbs stitched in black thread with immaculately embroidered red shapes in-between them. The limbs and red shapes seem engaged in a dance of sorts. It’s unclear if the red forms hover over to censor, consume or that they are the bodies of the figures themselves. Sometimes the red shapes are anatomical, kidney or bladder-like other times stringy like the fringe of a rug or hair. There is something reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s work in these vaguely unsettling figures, sort of a cute macabre.


Elnaz Javani, Birth, 2O19, hand embroidery on fabric, 2O x18 inches.

When one of these shapes emerge three-dimensional, like in the sculpture titled “Cell”, the artist reveals another side of her sewing practice, compulsion. The use of thread here exemplifies the concept of horror vacui or kenophobia “fear of the empty”, it is so densely layered that it becomes an all over texture and pattern of the fabric, a nest of stitches. “Cell” sits up puckered, stiff and heavy, and leans over to the right of its pedestal, its asymmetry made louder by the centrality and symmetry of the figure like form in Hur’s piece “Untitled (monoframe 01)”, that is hung beside it, waiting patiently for your attention with Rorschach like receptivity.

Javani’s seemingly irresistible urge toward covering large expanses of fabric in dense embroidery is taken to a beautiful effect in its use in the second room, where we see an installation of gangling figurative soft sculptures titled “My Effigies”.  On the skins of the frolicking forms, made of white muslin fabric are what on first look seems to be patterning or texture. But on closer inspection the black thread reveals itself as written language. I cannot read what the script speaks of, but the accompanying gallery text explains that the effigies are embroidered with stories in Farsi and Azari calligraphy, that I can only imagine must be revelatory.


Annette Hur, Moth Red on Red 00.01 (diptych), 2020, Korean silk and watercolor on fabric, 16 x13 inches.

The moth is a recurring motif in Hur’s body of work. The moth is often understood as a symbol of transformation, death and renewal. But the moth used by Hur is not a representation of the living breathing insect, instead it is a representation of a paper folded moth, this craft called jong-i jeobgi in Korean. This translation of a translation allows her to speak of the moth in a greater number of ways vacillating between poetic and formal. In the diptych “Moth Red on Red 00.01” her materials take on haptic sensibilities, the layers of silk almost auditorily emphasize the fragile nature of moth’s wings, and the sounds they might make when they are in flight. Humans unlike moths are heavy handed and clumsy, leading me to perceive the knots and loose threads in the same picture as a representation of the foibles of being human.  The three distinct divisions of a moth’s body, plus its wings are portrayed like a dismantled paper-folded moth over and over again throughout the body of work. The moth in its paper form is already economically stated down to its essentials but it becomes even more abbreviated even when translated into cut fabric segments. This rearticulation, joining and taking apart of the simplified forms, enables the compositions to often verge into becoming something else entirely un-mothlike.


Annette Hur, Untitled (monocollage 00), 2019, Korean silk and ink on paper, 20 x 15 inches.

The exploration and discovery in these fabric montages is kinesthetic. They are part collage, part patchwork and part drawing. The line drawn is the thread, the needle the hand. The thread is used gesturally and texturally it articulates and punctuates. Unlike the thread in a garment, it doesn't simply function, step back and disappear, in these works the thread shows itself. It also shows itself as fallible and is often unruly. Every area of marks has a different resonance when it falls in line tightly or puckers and bunches or ends in a knot or long fray. We follow with our eyes how each mark acts as evidence as it documents the action of pushing through one layer to the next and the holding of one thing to another. The segments joined together are fragile fabrics, silks, reminiscent of stockings and veils, all connected with a common concept of femininity. When I look at “Untitled (green and black)” or “Untitled (camo)”, I no longer think of moth’s wings but women’s crotches, pantyhose and the loose threads becoming wayward pubic hairs. Hur’s materials are slippery and the imagery is too. The more nonobjective the compositions are the more open they become to our individual perceptions, like a Rorschach test of sorts, these two pictures are particularly projective.

Visiting Exo, reminded me of a collage of Hannah Höch’s “Of Delicate Things” that I saw once in the Art Institute’s Prints and Drawing Study Room. It was made in 1919 while she worked in a German publishing house designing patterns for embroidered and lace fabrics in the department of handicraft. The collage in my mind was not a typical Höch, it was lovely and feminine, it was slippery, it didn't have a focal point. There was no figure. It was made up of cut and pasted printed images of lace pieces and curvilinear painted graphic elements. It was surprisingly less knife and more doily. It felt lacking in her trademark, biting social commentary. Seeing it a hundred years after it was made pressed behind glass like a prized butterfly, I realize that the delicate things were made even more delicate in their paper form. Each cut piece of paper was unbound and removed from its original context. The images of lace things made by and for the women of the time were dismantled and reconfigured. The pieces could have been placed in one hundred different ways, but Hoch decided on this particular composition and the longer I look at it the more I get inside her decisions. The lace and the space between them becomes charged with intention, how can something so commonplace become so otherworldly in her hands? There are no fancy tricks creating my feelings of awe, just a collaboration between a viewer and an artist’s decisions adhered to paper with glue. When Guillaume Apollinaire invented the term surrealism, it was not to indicate irrational dreamlike fantasy as the word has come to mean now a days but instead “a realism so charged with a metaphysical awareness of being that it is a revelation”. When we look at art, especially in this socially distant period we must look with all our senses and look like we have never seen before. It is only in relation to others that we evolve and grow ourselves and it is in these moments of openness and receptivity that we may find something we didn't even know that we were seeking.  


Hannah Höch, Of Delicate Things, 1919, Collage composed of cut and pasted printed and painted elements on tan wove paper, 183 × 135 mm.


EventExo at Devening Projects featuring recent work by Annette Hur and Elnaz Javani curated by Azadeh Gholizadeh.
DateJan. 2-30th, 2021
Address3039 West Carroll Avenue Chicago, IL 60612
HoursIn person by appointment on Saturdays from noon to 5pm. Go to deveningprojects.com/appointments to schedule a visit