signs and symbols opens an exhibition of works by Carol Szymanski

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signs and symbols opens an exhibition of works by Carol Szymanski
Installation view of You Pair How.

NEW YORK, NY.- signs and symbols is presenting You Pair How, a new exhibition by Carol Szymanski, which continues the artist’s ongoing investigation into the transmutability of language. Szymanski’s longstanding interest in translating language and speech visually — beginning with her first solo show The Broken Phoneme in 1987, which broke down words to their basic and distinct parts, their phonemes — extends itself now to the analysis and translation of gesture, crediting it as the natural visual action of expression. The Go-Between, a match-making project in which Szymanski plays the artist-matchmaker to anonymous participants, gives her the material to isolate and watch gesture in action. The “go-arounds” (or dates), captured in video and transmuted into Polaroid photography, sound, and a wall painting incorporating neon, speak aesthetically to the underlying properties and patterns of gesture itself.

Speaking on phases of gesture, the prominent linguist Adam Kendon notes, “The preparation phase is the movement of the hand as it readies itself for the gestural stroke. The stroke phase is the most effortful and most meaningful phase of the gesture.” With this concept providing a formal backbone for the artist’s project, Szymanski works to segment hand gestures from the stream of gestural activity in the “goarounds.” By slowing down, zooming in, cutting up, and overall abstracting the participants’ hand movements, gesture becomes disconnected from its corresponding words and phrases — becomes something existing in its own right, a visual language that, depending on the discussion or the person whose hand it is, can either be punchy, deliberate, or delicate. These works point to the idea that gesture, an accoutrement to words, goes beyond syllables and the phonemes, and is perhaps closer to the emotion and intensity of the original expression.

Adding to the power of the gestural expression is the fact that these images derive from people who have been “paired” by Szymanski, by way of a system involving interviews as well as a questionnaire (adapted from the nonsensical questionnaire in Hal Ashby's 1971 cult film Harold and Maude). The matchmaking performance, active for a year, is rooted in Szymanski’s love of bringing people together, but also in her ongoing attempt to question the boundaries between life and art, or better yet, to efface the boundaries of art so as to make it indistinguishable from life. As the artist phrases it: “You might think of the performance as a sort of social sculpture, or perhaps a collaging of people. The basis of trust stems from my good will, discerning eye, and innate desire to bring people together for the sake of happiness.” As of today, she has conducted 32 “go-arounds” where couples meet each other in her studio or sometimes on zoom. They play a few rounds of poker with her for warm-up and then Szymanski leaves them to have a date.

carol szymanski's art spans many media, from sculpture and painting to video and performance. She has become particularly known for a series of sculptures in the form of invented musical instruments, and particularly brass horns shaped from the alphabet, that she has been making since 1993. Szymanski was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, studied at the San Francisco Art Institute and the Whitney Museum Studio Program, and lives and works in New York. Recent solo and collaborative exhibitions include He Said, I Thought, signs and symbols, New York (2019); Pareidolia, Totah Gallery, New York (2018); The Phonemophonic Alphabet Brass Band, Winter Garden, New York (2017) curated by John Schaefer, WNYC New Sounds Live Series; Emergency Eyewash with Barry Schwabsky, Tanja Grunert Gallery, New York (2017); A Distance as Close as It Can Be, Elga Wimmer PCC, New York (2016); My Life is an Index, Tanja Grunert Gallery, New York (2015); and Pissing Against the Wind, or, Sketches on the Mental Drain on the Dead Banker, Guided by Invoices, New York (2012), which have received press attention in Artcritical, Art Press, Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, and Time Out New York. She has been a recipient of numerous awards including the Rome Prize and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. Szymanski has collaborated with numerous composers and musicians including Ben Neill, Ekmeles Ensemble, Betsy McClelland, Dewey Redman, and Wadada Leo Smith. Most recently, in the fall of 2021, Szymanski presented the performance Phonemophonic Alphabet Brass Band with avant-garde trumpeter, jaimie branch, at Park Avenue Armory.

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