Big Red & Shiny reviews Asylum by Andrea Lynn Santos

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Asylum at GRIN Gallery

By Anya Ventura

November 15, 2013 

Andrea Lynn Santos’ work evokes the spareness of this time of year, as
leaves fall to the ground, windows are shut tight, and the sky is emptied
of birds. As in the collograph print, My Bed, My Burden, it speaks to
the desire to burrow under the covers and not emerge until spring.
Asylum, now on view at GRIN Gallery, might be too hard-edged a word for
these rustic works on display. Santos’ work is softer, layered, delicate,
in a minor key.

Asylum marks the first solo show for Santos, a 2011 Mass Art graduate
recently relocated to Providence as an artist in residence at AS220. GRIN
Gallery opened last summer by two fellow Mass Art graduates, Lindsey
Stapleton and Corey Oberlander, in Providence’s burgeoning Olneyville
neighborhood. Asylum's centerpiece is a sawed-off teepee-like
construction: flaps of canvas upheld by branches of wood, the inner
chamber mosaicked in cracked shards of mirrored glass. It is a site of
mystical seclusion, set apart from the rhythms of everyday life. The
structure is accompanied by a soundtrack by Nicholas DiSalvio, its moody
tones providing just the sort of low-key ambiance for a winter of
hibernation.

The exhibit offers the comfort of a nest, a certain snug homeyness, a
refuge from a cold and wind-swept day. Running through it also is a sense
of sadness and isolation. We feel the gradual and deliberate rotation of
the seasons, of autumn moving into winter. We feel the accumulation of
slow time, the seconds mounting like the hundreds of tiny drops etched in
Weep. Like a prisoner’s tallies etched on the wall, Santos’ detailed and
painstaking mark-making appears to be a ritualistic timekeeping, an almost
meditative act carried out in isolation. She seems fascinated by the many
minute parts that make up a whole: strands of hair, slivers of fur, the
waves in the ocean.

"The cycles of repetition, flux, and reincarnation that occur while I’m
producing prints are factors that resonate with me conceptually," Santos
writes in her artist statement. She makes use of several different
printmaking techniques from woodcuts and collographs to etchings and
aquatints, the process itself mirroring the themes of layering,
repetition, and accumulation. For example, in several of the works Santos
uses the chine collé technique, in which thin sheets of paper are glued
onto a thicker one, and passed through the printing press all at once.

Inspired by the natural world, with its neutral palette of beiges, browns,
and grays, the work references cyclical processes of gestation and
dormancy, the hidden growth belied by long periods of slumber. In
Burrow, a triptych of woodcuts printed on hanging gossamer scrolls, two
bears circle into one another, overlapping, becoming one, while another
depicts a rabbit inside a larger animal’s stomach like Jonah in the belly
of the whale. The circular motif, with its mythical overtones, is also
seen in Passage, a delicate tube of paper printed with tiny mice who
appear to be running in perpetuity. Although the monochromatic tone might
leave some wanting for more excitement, the work maintains a taut
equilibrium; it suggests a natural order of things, the transcendent and
eternal, both changing and static at once.

Asylum closes today.

Anya Ventura is a writer for MIT's Center for Art, Science & Technology. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Art New England, The Huffington Post, (In)visible Culture, and COLLECT magazine.