Catalog essay for the exhibition


499 Park Avenue Gallery, New York City

July 15 - Ocrober 20, 2009


In the poetry contest in China by which the Sixth Patriarch of Zen Buddhism was chosen, there were two poems. One said: “The mind is like a mirror. It collects dust. The problem is to remove the dust.” The other and winning poem was actually a reply to the first. It said, “Where is the mirror and where is the dust?”

John Cage

Carl Jung wrote about a concept he called “active imagination”, asserting that images possess a life of their own, and that symbolic meaning develops according to its own logic and persists over time within the human collective consciousness. Indeed the whole of human history can be traced and explored through archetypes of symbolic significance as they occur, persist and mutate through various cultures, retaining potency even as their original specificity is lost or altered. For the visual artist, this historical body of information and its visual catalysts create a rich lexicon of cultural resonances, a teeming soup of significant forms. These archetypal forms are raw materials with which the contemporary artist may construct meaning. In a process not unlike the ancient practice of alchemy, a bit of information from one source may be combined with another unrelated bit from somewhere else to arrive at a third entity which is entirely independent of its constituents – a metaphoric embodiment of natural psychic processes through the integration of disparate elements.

The title of this exhibition, “CrossCurrents” calls attention to the notion that each artwork is a small moment in a vast historical current of human creation, a microcosm of an inclusive dynamic regenerative organism. This ocean of meaning is the fertile arena in which both Ann Pachner and Emily Cheng operate as artists, fluently adapting and integrating image impulses from myriad ancient streams through contemporary processes and conceptual practice.

For Emily Cheng it is not necessary or even possible to fully grasp the original cultural meaning of an ancient image, these symbols continue to speak, mysteriously, through metaphoric formal resonances and shards of meaning embedded in the human psyche. As a painter, Cheng works like a scavenger of dynamic gestures and loaded configurations, examining the visual remnants of human history and pulling images at will into her own contemporary and highly personal matrix. Through a process of layering and juxtaposing, impeccable color sense and formal eloquence, Cheng creates reconfigurations of archetypal impulses. Plucking images from the space of history, and placing them in a non-linear simultaneous space of the present, Cheng’s alchemical mash-ups forge new connections between contemporary technological reality and our deep sentient heritage.

Included among the works in this exhibition is a group of Cheng’s small Studies, an enlightening excerpt from her extensive image bank, hundreds of images, fragments and configurations in various combinations and from various sources, created in an ongoing process throughout her career. Their delicately detailed simplicity reveals Cheng’s visual and technical refinement, as well as her distinctive practice of selective hunting and gathering – carefully and deliberately choosing the richest fruit, the most potent ingredients, re-imaging, transforming and combining them into dynamic layered compositions such as the beautiful Green Lotus Ornament, also in this show. It is this process of selection and transformation, a diverse visual vocabulary instilled with improvisational sensibility that forms the core of Emily Cheng’s deep and perpetual dialogue with the human cultural collective.

Sculptor Ann Pachner has developed a highly refined approach to metaphoric imagery and physicality in both her carved wood sculptures and her drawings and prints. Focusing on multiple variations of a select group of ancient archetypal organic forms including the lingam and the skirt/blossom, Pachner explores fundamental relations between inner and outer dimensions, between corporeality and pure spirit. One aspect of her alchemical process involves the integration of these ancient forms with a sophisticated approach to contemporary materials and processes, including laminated wood and computer generated imagery. On a deeper level, Pachner achieves, through a combination of focused simplicity and exquisite sensuousness, a distinct emotional intensity, a silent presence in her imagery that transcends the distinction between ancient and contemporary, existing beyond the formal in a sort of timeless enraptured stillness.

In Breath Cloth 1, 2 & 3, an unusual series of subtle and complex prints based on pencil drawings, Pachner explores the effects of detailed illusionistic rendering, floating a spot-lit ambiguous skirt image in a modulated atmospheric space. The skirt hovers mysteriously between volume and weightlessness, between male and female, between symbol and apparition. In Two Blossoms, a computer generated print, Pachner utilizes the ancient image of the blossom and its inversion, the skirt, both lacy white, floating and dancing in sensuous dialogue with each other on an electric orange ground. The complexity of metaphoric resonance contained within this seemingly simple juxtaposition of images is truly striking and profound. In these highly personal pieces we clearly sense Ann Pachner’s deep connection to a universal regenerative energy, an inclusive layered floating consciousness.

Indeed it is this deep commitment to art as a timeless vehicle for regenerative transformation that ultimately unites these two distinctive artists. Through a translucent fusion of ancient currents of meaning with the complex courses of the contemporary world, they engage in the fundamental and purely human process of giving form to consciousness. No mirrors, no dust.

Steven Alexander 2009