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Exhibition Essay
April 3, 2019

Finding Stability in a World That is Not – a Conversation With Joan Wadleigh Curran

Author
Nell Mittelstead

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“I mean, I only have one little voice,” Joan Wadleigh Curran muses. And yet her voice echoes through the empty gallery. It reverberates with a tinny nature, as it buzzes through the speakerphone. While in the grand scheme of things, Curran is indeed just one voice, aiming to make a statement with her art, in another sense, she will swallow you whole.
Joan Wadleigh Curran, born and raised outside Boston, now lives and works in Philadelphia, and is the solo artist in the upcoming InLiquid show, “Instability.” And although she is just one voice, her art speaks volumes.
In my conversation with Curran this past week, Curran spoke of the path she had taken to arrive at “Instability.” Like many great ideas, it began with a seed, or a sapling of an idea. Actually, it began with the pollard trees that had been trimmed and pruned in a way that thwarts their growth to allow for regeneration. It was this dichotomy of nurture and neglect that first set Curran to lean into moments of dialogue between nature, and human’s hand acting upon nature. From there, Curran has been finding this same phenomenon in a multitude of locations.
From New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, to the shores of Ireland, Curran has a knack for finding lost objects washing up at her feet.
While these paintings lack any depictions of human forms, there is a surrogate structure to fill in for their absence: a mass of object that impose upon the viewer. The wall of objects in Aftermath I and Aftermath II Curran stresses the impact of humans on environments, and the presence of people that imposes upon spaces as objects gather in unexpected places. It is not just trash that is found in these compositions, but their human histories as well. Private, intimate histories comes along with them, imbuing each landscape with a story. But even given all their history, there is something uncanny about seeing such familiar items arranged as they are in Curran’s paintings. All the objects are forced up to the front, all in focus, all at your fingertips. Every single one tells you to take a look.
Curran is not interested in providing you with an answer in her mysterious paintings. Instead she gives you questions. So while she might have just “one little voice,” it’s got a lot to say, and it’s definitely worth a listen.
“Instability” opens April 11th. Visit Artsy to see the entirety of the show and all the works that are available for purchasing.

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