Allana Clarke: A Particular Fantasy
Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, September 13–December 10, 2022
Art Omi, in Ghent, New York, October 8, 2022–January 8, 2023
Artist talk, September 27, 7 pm, Tishman Auditorium, Bennington College
Usdan Gallery opening reception, October 4, 6-8 pm
Art Omi opening reception, October 8, 3-5 pm
Allana Clarke’s first institutional solo exhibition, A Particular Fantasy, is a collaboration between Usdan Gallery and Art Omi, with complementary installations across venues. A Trinidadian-American artist, Clarke is known for using materials such as sugar, cocoa butter and hair-bonding glue to confront histories of colonialism and Western standards of beauty. While her photographs and videos look closely at bodies, her sculptures repurpose products designed for use on bodies. Her process often begins by pouring large, thick quantities of hair-bonding glue onto a flat surface to create a “skin,” which she stretches, pulls, pleats and molds using her hands and feet. Her somatic technique transubstantiates a toxic substance into stunning objects that ripple, curl, shimmer, twist and glisten.
Covering Clarke’s practice over the past ten years, A Particular Fantasy takes its title from theorist, activist and poet Audre Lorde’s essay “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” (1984). In it, she describes her anger as a “molten pond at the core of me.” The essay argues for new womanist understandings of self to emerge, generated by and through relationships between Black women as a critical way to extricate themselves from the “racist sexist cauldron” of American history. Clarke quotes the Lorde essay in her video Of My Longing & My Lack (2019), in which the narrator describes struggling to overcome internalized, generational hatred “because I am not some particular fantasy of a Black woman.”
In dialogue with the poured latex works of Lynda Benglis and the stretched pantyhose of Senga Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. series, Clarke’s sculptures examine the possibilities afforded by mutating a substance that binds into new, pliant formations. Embracing the messy, lubricious nature of the hair-bonding glue, Clarke’s resulting forms appear like the “molten ponds” described in Lorde’s essay, writhing, morphing and metabolizing on the wall and floor. Defying this product’s traditional use, Clarke proposes its radical reincarnation, underscoring Lorde’s proposition that “it is out of Chaos that new worlds are born.” The artist experiences her methods as freeing her materials from their traumatic origins and, in turn, offering a metaphor to free herself from the violent compartmentalization of Black identity.
Usdan Gallery programming foregrounds ideas of process central to Clarke’s practice, with performance videos and a stage-like area for the artist to construct a 25-foot-long hair-bonding glue sculpture—her largest piece yet and the first oriented completely on the floor. During a three-week residency at Bennington, Clarke has support from student assistants and her work overlaps with gallery hours, making her process part of the exhibition and integrating it with teaching. A film of Clarke making the sculpture, by artist Cori Spencer, will join the show once the sculpture is complete. A Particular Fantasy resonates within the history of Bennington, which in 1952 presented the first Jackson Pollock retrospective and in1958 hosted the first U.S. exhibition of the Japanese Gutai group. As Clarke’s embodied work operates within mid-century ideas of “action painting” connected to both Pollock and the Gutai, the Usdan site underscores her advancement of modernist traditions of abstraction and performance.
The concurrent display at Art Omi presents a selection of Clarke’s celebrated wall-hung sculptures as well as large-format photographs that depict fragmented frames of the artist’s body and a new triptych, A Return to the Point of Entanglement (2016/2022). The triptych’s title references Afro-Caribbean writer, philosopher, and poet Édouard Glissant, who examined the rhizomatic pathways for new cultural production to emerge in a world inextricably shaped by colonialism. Embracing the fragments left in the wake of colonial violence, Glissant argues that the fragments together constitute a rich bricolage that will refuse any fixed system or notion of linear continuity. A video on view in both locations, Weaving De/Construction (2012), provides a conceptual link between the two sites. The exhibition catalog includes a commissioned essay by writer Stephanie E. Goodalle, whose work focuses on the experiences of the Black diaspora.
Allana Clarke (b. 1987) received a BFA in photography from New Jersey City University in 2011 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2014. She is an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Clarke has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, the Vermont Studio Center, Lighthouse Works and Yaddo. She recently completed a 2020-21 NXTHVN fellowship, a mentorship program co-founded by artist Titus Kaphar, and one of her large-scale sculptures was included in the 2022 FRONT Cleveland Triennial. She has received grants including the Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, Franklin Furnace Fund, and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Her work has been screened and performed at Gibney Dance, New York; Invisible Export, New York; the New School Glassbox Studio, New York; FRAC, Nantes, France; and SAVVY Contemporary, Berlin; and was featured in the Bauhaus Centennial publication Bauhaus Now: Is Modernity an Attitude. Clarke is represented by Galerie Thomas Zander in Cologne and Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago.
Exhibition photographs by Alon Koppel
Photographs of Allana Clarke working inside Usdan Gallery by Alexa Nikol Curran
The following Bennington students assisted Allana Clarke with making her sculpture and Corinne Spencer with making her film of Allana at work: Rafaella Binder-Gavito; Bowman; Vic Coronel; Juan Lopez; Sophia Paez; Joe Scott; and Jenna Taus.