John Armstrong

Sandra Rechico gulp
Art Gallery of Mississauga and Southern Alberta Art Gallery

“gulp” opens with Sandra Rechico’s 1995 Floor Show, a wall-to-wall installation of pinkish-painted floor tiles sporting cut-outs of the digestive tract that affectionately cluster together at the tiles’ corners. These images of human organs, photocopied from a medical textbook, each preserve the illustrator’s helpfully distinct colours. Here the pink, maroon and ochre palette recasts the organs as so many grim confections.

While gingerly walking across this sea of appliqué viscera, I am reminded first of Pompeian floor mosaics of marine fauna (squid, eels, octopuses…) in the archeological museum in Naples. Then my mind turns to much of contemporary art’s seemingly endless meditations on what the interior of the body does or might look like. The “does” inevitably invokes medical science, which is bad; and the “might” provides a subjective or felt image, which is good. Rechico references both positions: more importantly, she is onto what we do with such conflicting views of our innermost selves. And Rechico’s way of getting at this process of reification is to suggest how we gather and record information about body bits: evidently, she doesn’t feel that we rely on the most current methods or data.

Rechico catalogues human organs with the perseverance and technical panache of a folk artist dedicated to home-spun, novelty techniques. In Floor Show, her cut-and-paste-and-varnish technique (over eighty organ parts) is surely the non plus ultra of naïve art. The 1997-98 untitled (soot works) are ninety-eight copper-framed images of silhouetted viscera that, from a distance, resemble those stiff and fastidious nineteenth-century cut-paper profile portraits that form part of many families’ visual archives. To make these, Rechico ingeniously stencils the carbon of a candle’s flame onto paper. Viewed at close range, the surprisingly lambent images have a near-photographic tonal range (and occasional singe marks). The sweeping wisps of carbon and fuzzy contours suggest that these pancreatic glyphs, illusionistically pinned and wriggling in the middle of the mounted sheets of paper, are in the last throws of life. Trod upon in Floor Show, burnt in soot works, these anachronistic visions of our entrails have every reason not to be happy.

In penance to all this digestive disrespect, Bowels of Compassion (1998) encompasses untold weeks of that ultimate gesture of affection, knitting. The Chapel Gallery, a room just three metres square, which Rechico has painted grey room, is congested with hanging lengths of corking along with sausage-like knits that have been stretched over dryer ducting or stuffed with everything from rags to wire grills. The mock intestines sprout various protuberances, pill, and occasionally peel back to reveal the stuffing. Piled up in the corner, mimicking the inevitable product of intestinal transit, are a number of metre-long, dirty-beige, nylon-stocking-covered tubes. If the early Romans, like proto-Christs, fancied themselves to be walking on seas and fishes in their villas, Rechico proposes that we recklessly inhabit our insides (a perfect metaphor for a consumer society) through misbegotten science, love, even diligence.

Art Gallery of Mississauga, October 29 to December 4, 1998
Southern Alberta Art Gallery, March 13 to April 27, 1998

“Sandra Rechico: gulp.” C International Contemporary Art 62, (May - July 1999)