In reframing the concerns of sovereignty from the perspective of the subject, there remain differing locations of embodiment: there are sovereign subjectivities formed by power relations, gender, language, class and race; on another reading, there are to sovereign subjects, as things, formed by power relations, materials, pressure and gravity. Within A Problem So Big It Needs Other People, the works of Tiziana La Melia occupy this latter position—paintings and sculptures that insist on being read inconclusively as kinds of things despite the act of looking that otherwise wants to fix objects as immutable or understood. La Melia’s works want something else from the viewer: the maintenance of multiple identifications, such as the tending to an oscillation between painting and sculpture, or an ambiguity between the objects of art and the accoutrements of the domestic.
Hanging from the walls of the gallery, the usual presentation devices (frames, mats, glass) are exchanged for mundane if seemingly jerry-rigged supports.
In Yolk Tabs medieval genuflex and still (2012), a painted scene of portraiture hangs from an undone coat hanger alongside a significant collection of pop tabs. There is no frame in the regular understanding of things and no stretching of the canvas that, as it is, falls away from the magnetic supports that barely keep the painting attached to the hanger.
For Dust selves, reflect and flex (2012), a purple colour field (lighter and softer than “purple” suggests) does keep a more regular shape, long and straight, but instead of a glass barrier between the linen and the world, there is a sheet of mylar stapled to the wall, right through the painting beneath. A rusty nail marks the top centre of the field, off of which another undone clothes hanger spools, precariously supporting a pair of sunglasses. Almost as though a chain reaction, another piece of bent metal extends from the frame of the glasses and a single magnet keeps in place a magazine clipping that, as gallery visitors pass by, sways in the air.
A third work—Curly roads, ysl opium, aerosol hair pointing at, a living fact if lucky to hand registration, cement finisher who wants to be a banker’s wheelbarrow and reverse the desire switch the character (2012)—is planted on gallery floor. Kicked out from the walls, a simple armature creates a stiff 90 degree angle, upon which two more paintings hang, their subject matter being two-dimensional abstractions of the shape of their support. The work is an object to circle around and regard, with no vantage point for optimal viewing suggested.
La Melia’s final contribution to the show is a series of small ceramic sculptures entitled clay voice drink still (2013-2014). As the name of the collection suggests, the small ceramic works could be read as dining ware, but queer dining ware as their shapes and sizes are just a little bit off scale to common cups and mugs. Thus, the domestic value of the set is questionable (despite being displayed in close proximity to Maggie Groat’s Fences will turn into tables [2010-2013]).
The indeterminate character of form in La Melia’s work is not remarkable in itself, but it is foregrounded in a way that compels consideration by the viewer. If sovereignty is properly characterized by negotiation, then La Melia’s work performs this give-and-take at an aesthetic level. Since when is canvas the stuff of sculpture? Since when is painting draped from a coat hanger? And yet, her work suggests that the answers to these questions are beside the point. By resisting resolution as strictly one medium or form over another, any one understanding becomes provisional at best. Which just might mean that there is something to this idea of negotiation after all. Like the effects of Rubin’s vase (an image that uses a common border to alternately appear as a single vase or two faces staring straight on), distinct narratives are produced if the works are considered from particular art historical perspectives, and other narratives emerge from other lenses. To encounter her work is to engage in a process of concession and insistence with no clear end in sight.
While often utilizing forms of abstraction, La Melia’s work comes from a place of trust for her materials and processes in a way that does not glorify the genre, but seeks to make meaning of it. So then, abstraction becomes a way to embed oneself in the world through materials and work. What are the effects of looking? What of the field of possible responses an object or experience can generate? Within the exhibition, La Melia’s work provides a focus the action that happens in objects as material things. Maybe it seems a bit funny to talk about sovereignty in regards to things, but humans are just a special case of things. We use tools all the time, and art is just another tool we can use to make sense, relate and do things.