Nov 24, 2011

REVIEW | Thresholds | Pearl Fincher Gallery | Spring, TX

Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, Gates: Sacred and Profane, clay, paint, paper mache/wood, 1990
What defines a threshold? Literature tells us its an old saying for a doorway or crossing point according to Urban Dictionary it's a rating system of the physical appearance of men and women on a scale of one to ten. However, in this solo exhibition, consisting of just a handful of pieces, Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak explains in her artist statement that a threshold is not just a crossing point between to places but a process as well. Marking a place of transition from one place to another, light to darkness.
The exhibition was that very threshold the artist described. The transitions were literally displayed on the walls and happened right in front of you as you crossed from one end of the gallery to the other, the subject matter and the pieces changed as the viewer crosses over into an alternate perception.

Lydai Bodnar-Balahutrak, Witnesses, torched painted wood, oil, wax
ancient pottery shards / canvas diptych

When putting together this exhibition the gallery kept space at the top of their priority list. The artist had a couple of installation pieces that acted as literal gates and in order to maintain that feeling of passage and to intensify the viewers perception and sense of ability to cross over from one world to another, the pieces were displayed angled at opposite ends of the room. With plenty of space behind and in front of them they allowed people to walk around the objects, which really gave the desire to want to open those iron-looking gates and pass through. 
Color and lighting was also a big contributor to this exhibit as well. The pieces were arranged in a smaller gallery off of the main gallery where there was more natural lighting from windows combined with the typical track lighting installed by the space. The combination of natural and artificial light opened up the space a lot and turned the walls a pale gray color almost so that when first entering the area it has a similarity to what someone might describe "Limbo" as. There is nothing to specifically ground you, so to speak, accept for the pieces themselves that are separated into two worlds. 

Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak,Woods, lead, plants, resin/torched wood

Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak, Rains, lead, plants, resin/torched wood

This transition between two worlds that's been mentioned is the artists’ reference to her ties to Ukrainian culture and the Russian Orthodox Church. Her pieces are all very modern but they make such strong references its almost like looking a collection of renaissance art. The first few pieces start out referencing Ukrainian artifacts with a large-scale painting done in muted grays of an ancient artifact necklace which really sets the tone for the rest of the first half of the exhibit. The following pieces are the Gates, which the viewer can walk around and examine both sides and the other large scale painting Witnesses. These pieces strongly reference the threshold in a literal sense; Gates is a representation of the representation of the secular and the sacred, the clay reliefs enacting states of being while the tree a central axis linking two worlds. Witnesses makes reference to old masters with the life size figures that look like Italian renaissance statues. This piece contributes to the threshold by its eye catching center that appears as a void or gaping wound of some kind where bones and artifacts appear to be almost pushed out of it and even falling out of the painting itself with the pieces of pottery laying at the foot of the painting.

As the viewer moves further around the room you come across the two pieces together that the artist has made in tribute to the Chernobyl disaster that occurred at a nuclear power plant in Ukraine. In these twin paintings, Woods and Rain, Bodnar-Balahutrakis paying tribute to the lives that were lost in the explosion. Through her use of organic material and building up layers the artist is starting her transition from the origins of Ukrainian culture to current affairs. At the same time the colors have started to shift and the dark grays and blacks are shifting over to dark reds, golds and browns with a lot more use of wood resin and burning. With these pieces, the artist balances subject matter with works such as a piece titled Two Faced, which is made of a wooden block covered in torched resign and gold leaf. The piece makes a reference to things not always being what they seem, on one side there are some words that have been cut out in relief on the wood that talk about the Stalinist movement to permanently remove the letter sounding like "h" from the Ukrainian alphabet. When the viewer moves to the other side they see an egg with an open dictionary laying under it that have been placed in small cubicle that has also been cut out of the wood. However, upon closer inspection, and if you have knowledge on the subject matter, you can read the little dictionary and see it isn't Ukrainian at all. 

Next to these pieces referencing the destruction of Ukrainian and its culture are also works consisting or collective objects the artist has found on her travels and experiences. Most still maintain the heavy charred theme of the rest of the works but there are some references to the artists’ own personal heritage. For instance another installation piece of a large traveling trunk, covered in gold leaf and again torched resign, standing on end and angled open with her grandfather’s priest robes inside from Russian Orthodox Church. Another piece makes uses the same wood and gold leaf effect but also she has incorporated stitching patterns of cloth and bits of material that a collection of grandmothers might have made.
As a whole, the show was small but very successful and quite eye catching. The transitions were beautifully done and the references made clear and sent quite a powerful message on the struggles of a country's history to remain true to their culture.
-Alyssa Moody


  1. I appreciated the review of "Thresholds". The writer obviously took care and time to look and engage with the artwork on view. However, in the review, the liturgical conceits were incorrectly referenced as being of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that is not the case. The liturgical imagery and actual objects are of the Ukrainian Byzantine-rite Ukrainian Catholic Church. My grandfather was a Ukrainian Catholic priest (they could marry) and the vestments were his. I was born to parents who immigrated from Ukraine after World War II, and I grew up in a Ukrainian community in Cleveland, Ohio. This solo show draws on my Ukrainian familial heritage and my connections to Ukraine's history. I am grateful to the Pearl Fincher Museum of Fine Arts for such a wonderful installation with the informative wall text accompanying the works. I am so happy that you visited the show, but I had to point out and correct the unfortunate error in your otherwise very thoughtful essay.
    - Lydia Bodnar-Balahutrak

  2. It's nice to see a blog with a nice juicy amount of detail! Really wonderful job! Everything flows so nicely!

    - Erin Davis