‘Johanna Calle: Trama’ at Ruiz-Healy Art Gallery
By Carly Dennis
Johanna Calle, born in 1965 in Bogotá, Colombia, is an internationally acclaimed artist known for her exploration of drawing through both traditional and unconventional media, from pen and ink to carefully cutting metal screens and stitching with wire, as well as traditional printmaking techniques. A selection of her work is currently on view at Ruiz-Healy Art at the gallery’s Texas location in San Antonio.
On view are nine of her recent works, as well as two from the previous decade. The selection of works reflects the fusion she has created throughout her career of formal elements and socio-political commentary. Her prints and drawings use a quiet palette of black, white, and grey, and are composed with a graceful spareness. At first look, one might expect explorations solely of line and shape, reflecting primarily on visual relationships on the page. These pieces certainly deal with such concerns, but their titles and fine textual details hint at their conceptual connections to other realms.
For instance, in a mid-sized print of black ink on warm-white paper, we see a grid-like structure with varying widths of boxes, suggesting an accounting sheet of some kind. The lines, however, are broken, bent, or tangled in places, and a jumble of letters fall throughout it, escaping through the openings where the grid structure has broken. This is Untitled (balance zero)/Sin título (saldo cero), 2014, a reflection on economic dynamics: “economic disorder, figures manipulated by states and accountants, economic cycles, debts, and bankruptcy,” as Calle frames it.
Trama captures the parts of Calle’s work which touch on finance, concepts of national “development,” and economic vulnerability; gender and family relations and abuse; the high rates of disappearance or abandonment of children in Colombia in the ’90s due to violence between government, left, and right military groups; concepts of representing absence; and the visual representation of sound.
Beyond the bounds of this exhibition, she has also worked with themes of ecological issues and indigenous land ownership. In mid-2000s Calle executed a series of handwritten, text-formed drawings of leaves; the text is comprised of scientific writing on the impact of the herbicide Roundup on plant DNA. Such herbicides have been sprayed by Colombian government to wipe out crops in illegal farms on natural reserves. She has reflected on land justice and land rights through a series of large-scale drawings made by typewriting to create images of trees. The text is pulled from the Colombian Land Law, and typed on property registry forms paper, while the trees rendered are representations of the trees which displaced peasant farmers use to mark the edges of the land they argue for their right to.
In Silentes Calle notes of her work, “I am not interested in retelling what happened, or telling a painful story; I am interested in the consequences of a fact, what gets left off to the side.” This show offers a space for reflection on social issues of Colombia and beyond, presented through a meticulous and methodical artistic practice. Trama will be on view through June 24, 2017.