April 18–May 26, 2019
High Noon Gallery
106 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
Written by Emily Burns
When first entering High Noon Gallery to view Mother Tongue, Eleanna Anagnos’ debut solo exhibition in New York City, the immediate feeling is one of a contemporary art gallery, but merged with a museum of timeworn artifacts. Though the majority of the work is dated 2019, the pieces themselves feel primordial, elemental in nature.
The works—which represent a recent material departure for Anagnos—elicit the power and energy of the earth with a collection of materials borne from that body. Paper from trees and clay from the ground provide the substrate for the work. Each piece hovers between the natural and human-made, creating a language consisting of subtle human intervention and gentle exploration, evocative of the Japanese wabi-sabi aesthetic.
The forms carry messages, in part the impressions of their making—the artist’s hands working, pinching, pressing her fingerprints into the giving softness of the material—cathartic and methodical, like sourdough. The raw material, so different from the life of its final form, which dries or bakes solid, brittle, and resistant to the sculpting touch. The finished works in clay and paper are similarly delicate, though opposed in their delicacy—the clay hard, but subject to cracking, the paper subtly pliable but subject to the threat of moisture, fire—elements that could melt or burn the pulp.
The stiff density of the compressed, dense Hydrocal of her previous work is replaced with the airy, dry, sponginess of handmade paper. The objects themselves evoke the ocean and its ancient history. Coral-like, the brilliant teal of Queen resembles both living coral reef from the front, and brightly patterned, swimming tropical fish from the back. The largest work in the show, the piece comfortably hangs, suspended from the ceiling from invisible fishing line.
Lamda bridges the languages of sculpture and painting, embodying preciousness, mounted like a relic on a museum wall, its textured surface illuminated by a burst of airbrushed paint. Resembling an ancient shield or warrior’s breastplate, the multifaceted planes of delicate paper pulp, pressed and formed and then trimmed. Its edges crisp, it would make for useless, albeit beautiful armor.
The namesake tongues appear in numerous works, from the human-esque pink and tan clay tongues in Double Digger, to the ivory ones covering the surface of Creed and Gift of Tongues—like shark’s teeth, with razor-sharp edges and the whiteness of sun-bleached bone. Alluding to vocal articulation through non-verbal means, the vibration of the mother can be felt through time and space.
Through these works, Anagnos is able to connect epochs through objects, ancient in their essence while investigating forms of communication that remain contemporary, though ever-more driven deep below the surface. Viewers can sense something deeper, bigger than themselves, and tap into a vernacular that though seemingly foreign, feels all too familiar.