Saturday, May 24, 2014

Elana Herzog

Dewarped and Unweft

            For the past 10 years, Elana Herzog has been creating impressive interventions out of ripped and otherwise deconstructed domestic fabrics that seem to grow seamlessly out of a room's corners, cling to a supporting column or hang (via thousands of industrial staples) from a wall. What most people don't know is that Herzog accomplishes the lion's share of her labour-intensive activity in the studio. There, equipped with Sheetrock panels, a pneumatic staple gun and a large supply of cotton tablecloths and chenille bedspreads, Herzog has time to work and plan for the installation. On-site, the Sheetrock is hung, and many more hours are spent augmenting and adjusting details. The final effect is almost magical, as though a vast, somewhat wild garden had grown in the gallery quite spontaneously.

Dewarped and Unweft  

            Extending the discourse into three dimensions, Herzog uses a combination of layered wood, textiles and stapled surfaces to create freestanding and wall mounted sculptures, which reveal the versatility of her visual language. These pieces play with relationships between sculptural and pictorial space. They invoke landscapes, aerial views, and strata. As ever, Herzog is extremely interested in the evocative power of every day things, repetition and variation, and relationships between positive and negative space.


            Elana Herzog is one of several artists working today whose installations draw from the pared down traditions of minimalism and the bravura experimentation of arte povera. Her works involve the artist’s improvisational, performative action in their construction. Herzog’s practice is to attach distressed discarded textiles such as old bedspreads, tablecloths or carpets directly to a wall using hundreds of metal staples. She then tears away at the fabric and selectively reapplies these cloth shreds with more staples, arriving at progressively dematerialized works she terms “sculptural drawings.” The heavily built-up areas of cloth and dense patterns of metal staples play against the skin of the bare, perforated gallery wall, suggesting the precarious physical presence of her constructions. They are simultaneously being made and unmade, new forms emerging from the remains of the old.

W(e)ave /details/

            Though Herzog’s initial inspiration derives from the monolithic rectangles of Sixties abstract painting, she proceeds to challenge modernism’s conventions of the integrity of the object by injecting references to the violent disregard and destruction of the planar surface. She describes her debt to modernism as both reverent and irreverent.

Civilization and its Discontents /detail/

            The Aftermath of Warp and Weft. There’s something mysterious about Elana Herzog’s fabric works, embedded as they are, seamlessly within the gallery walls. Are they the remnants of some violent event that occurred in the room overnight, before we arrived? Let’s consider, for a moment, other forms of art that appear to us as magically, virtuosically, in-situ — Renaissance frescoes, for instance, painted quickly and expertly into wet plaster, or urban murals that appear out of nowhere, covered with portraits or Wild Style graffiti. We, as viewers, know we’re expected to marvel in their construction, their poetic authorship, at how they seem to transcend the plain, resolute, impassivity of the architecture. But Herzog’s fabrics have struck some sort of quiet, Faustian bargain with their support. The walls of the gallery are no longer simple, reassuring structures; and the otherwise pleasant, domestic fabrics impaled upon them are no longer a source of comfort. In their construction and underlying structure, the pieces we see here are honest — almost to a fault.

Civilization and its Discontents

            Utilizing a pneumatic stapler to affix textiles to walls, Elana Herzog creates one surface from two. Proceeding in an expressive method akin to drawing, she places and pulls out staples, removes and shreds bits of fabric, and reapplies both until a dematerialized image emerges. “When I feel my spine tingle, I go with that”, she says. In her works, fabrics adorn and dissolve into walls, with the woven pattern of the fabric a mere memory in her final composition. Sometimes dense staples stand in for fabric on the grid of a weave; in other areas, the staples break out on their own, acting as silver lines on white space. The evidence of aggressive textile tearing and distressed wall marking offers poetic moments, as when a long fabric tendrils curls into the air or surprisingly voluminous fold pushes out from the wall beside a conspicuously flat empty space.

 In Practice Projects

            After receiving her MFA from SUNY Alfred in 1979, Herzog created mixed-media sculpture for almost ten years before turning to utilitarian textiles as her materials of focus. Her first work with textiles consists of a wooden kitchen table altered by cutting, and a long peace of knotted, sheer fabric hanging bellow the table and snaking along the floor. Given the table’s anthropomorphic character and the evocative quality of the twisted fabric, the title ‘Rapunzel’ (1990) is fitting. Since that work, Herzog has been using sheets, bedspreads, rugs, draperies and curtains to make her sculptural works and architectural interventions.

Plaid /detail/                                Projected

            While some of her works suggest paintings by maintaining the rectangular form of found blankets, curtains and carpets, other suggests sculpture in the way she uses yardage to involve and interact with space. To extend the piece among multiple surfaces, she subtly alters gallery spaces building objects such as horizontal platforms, ceiling-high piers, or low partition forms. Uniting the forms with the fabric, Herzog is then able to create dynamic vertical and horizontal elements around the perimeter of the room and into the gallery space. With tiny square fabric networks reminiscent of city models placed up high, down low, and unpredictable shapes, her installations recall both a modern grid and a contained, in-progress construction site. Viewers experience exquisite, ever shifting panoramas as they walk through what is essentially a three-dimensional plaid environment.


            Elana Herzog lives and works in New York City. She has a BA from Bennington College and an MFA from Alfred University. Herzog was the 2012 Fellow of the Saint-Gaudens Memorial in Cornish, New Hampshire along with a solo exhibit. Other venues include a survey at the Daum Museum, MO, the Aldrich Museum, CT, the Tang Museum, NY, Museum of Art and Design, NY, Weatherspoon Museum, NC, Brooklyn Museum, NY, the Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, CT, Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland, Konsthalle Goteborg, Sweden and at Konstahalle Gustavsbergs, and Tegnerforbundet in Norway, among other venues. She is a lecturer at Yale Univeristy. Herzog is preparing for a two-person exhibition, with Linda Herrit, at The Pierogi Boiler for the Fall of 2014, and for a residency at the Josef and Annie Albers Foundation.

Civilization and its Discontents

            Her numerous honours include an Anonymous Was A Woman Award, a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award, two Individual Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant.
            You can view more of her work on her website:

Into the Fray                            Romancing the Rock

W(e)ave                           Rose Series #2    

Untitled                                 Plaid 

Civilization and its Discontents     Dewarped and Unweft /detail/ 

Dewarped and Unweft

Elana Herzog