Arts / Galleries

Catherine MacMahon’s New Exhibition Challenges Typical Gallery Structures

Exploring "Thresholds of Uncertainty," Currently on View in Dallas

BY Vivian Phillips // 02.11.22

During our Zoom call, Catherine MacMahon sits poised inside her studio. It’s bright and filled with all sorts of materials: steel, dye, paper, clay … even rocks. She smiles kindly and laughs a little bit when I thank her for meeting with me. “It’s such a privilege to show work at all in a gallery,” she says. “And then, to be able to share it with others, it’s my pleasure, really.”

The New Orleans-born artist may be humble, but her work is spectacular: visceral, calculated, thought-provoking. It undeniably belongs in a gallery. More than 20 years of experience have brought MacMahon to this point in her career, and her current exhibition — “Thresholds of Uncertainty” (on view at Erin Cluley Gallery in Dallas through Saturday, February 12) — shines a spotlight on her myriad talents as a creative.

Catherine MacMahon's Both, And, 2019
Catherine MacMahon’s Both, And, 2019.

Her carefully molded and coiled steel sculptures recall her interest in architecture when she was an undergraduate student. Shibori-dyed paper, gently positioned alongside those works, reflects her time in grad school. To this day, MacMahon continues to find unexpected connections between her education and her method. “[Shibori] is surprisingly very architectural,” she says. “There’s a lot of precision involved in it. At the end of the day, you can’t control what you make. It’s like you’re collaborating with the materials.”

Catherine MacMahon's emptiness looms Between Blades of Grass, 2021
Catherine MacMahon’s emptiness looms Between Blades of Grass, 2021.

When creating “Thresholds of Uncertainty,” she worked with videography as a medium for the first time.

In love with the sound that steel makes when it hits the ground, she wanted to capture the movement of her material before it was crafted into its final form. “I remembered the first time I unraveled a rod — the sound of it hitting the concrete floor was so interesting to me,” MacMahon says. “It was beautiful yet jarring and uncomfortable. For years, I’ve been saying, ‘I want to film this somehow.’”

When coiling these steel rods in string, MacMahon also contemplated movement. This time, she was reminded of oppression rather than beauty. “[In my work], there are a lot of undertones of the feminine. Gendered materials — what does that mean? Does that really exist? In all of the binding and things that I do, I think about feet binding and corsets and the history of binding women.”

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Dallas based Artist Catherine MacMahon.
Dallas-based Artist Catherine MacMahon.

MacMahon challenges not only gendered objects in “Thresholds of Uncertainty” but also the structure of exhibitions in general. She places delicate paper next to stiff metal, earthy rocks next to rods wrapped in string. Contrast is fundamental to this exhibition — challenging the viewer to reconsider what makes up an interior space.

“I’m always trying to destabilize and re-stabilize,” she says. “If I see something that’s a system — something repetitive — I want to take it apart. Also, the flip side: [taking] things that are seemingly disconnected [and] trying to find ways of connecting them.”

“Thresholds of Uncertainty,” on view now through Saturday, February 12, at Erin Cluley Gallery, 150 Manufacturing St., Suite 210. Open Wednesday – Saturday, noon – 5 pm, or by appointment. To see more of Catherine MacMahon’s work, click here.

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