Nicole Coson – Process of Elimination
By Carlomar Arcangel Daoana
Resisting immediate classification and effortlessly perceived as abstract, the forms that float or interlock on the picture plane of the works that constitute Process of Elimination, Nicole Coson’s solo exhibition at Display Gallery, are instantly recognizable to those who know them: Chinese scholar’s rocks, which have centuries after centuries of history behind them.
These naturally-occurring stones, which may be the size of a thumb or a room, are important to Chinese landscape painting but are also prized for their formal—geologic—properties: thinness (shou), openness (tou), perforations (lou) and wrinkling (zhou). Adorning the tables of scholars, they are remnants of nature’s manifold transformations. Representing the mountains from which they come, they are more synecdochic than metaphoric, a part standing for the whole.
In this exhibition, the artist transubstantiates the materiality of the rocks into its thinnest, flattest possible impression upon a two-dimensional space, reverse engineering objective presence to its phantom equivalent, emphasizing the revered qualities of the rocks primarily as concepts and not as descriptions of things in the world. The hole in the center of a rock reveals canvas, not space. The curvature of shape is ink. The reductive process of her chosen medium, which is printmaking, allows her to work within the constraints of repeatable form. Her quest is to represent the part by a particle.
By introducing her own unique placements, on how the rocks should be pictorially arranged, Coson attempts to erode the rocks of their cultural and historical implications—the ultimate act of elimination itself. Here, they are unmoored, seemingly absent of context, free agents. Dehistorized this way, they become their own equivocal presences, self-referential and autonomous. They point to their own meaning, their own destiny.
It is important to note that the interest of the artist, who ventured into a similar territory last April when she interrogated both the formal and symbolic limits of Zen garden stones in an exhibition in Manila also titled as Process of Elimination, is not a total annihilation of representation but an exploration into the tight, liminal space right before an object, freighted with associations, dissolves into unmeaning, becomes irrevocably abstract. Up to what point, the artist seems to be asking, can an image be atomized and yet still not lose a strand of DNA connecting it to its original, unimpeachable source?
By plumbing that space, Coson unlocks the shimmering, fugitive dimension that attends the visible world: resonances and emanations, fevers and echoes, trails of afterglow or dark matter, the proof of life of inanimate objects valued by human happiness. In Process of Elimination, the rocks are rocks, but are also gestures, imprints, accidents, deliberations, reactions of chemical on cloth, shou/tou/lou/zhou, points of contemplation, vectors of movement, things in the airless space of canvas and things in the world where the wind howls.