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Allana Clarke: A Particular Fantasy

opening at Art Omi, Ghent, NY and

Usdan Gallery at Bennington College, Bennington, VT 

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Photo courtesy of the artist.

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Ghent, NY and Bennington, VT —  Art Omi and Usdan Gallery are excited to announce the opening of Allana Clarke: A Particular Fantasy, on view at Usdan Gallery from September 14 – December 10 and at Art Omi’s Newmark Gallery from October 8 – January 8, 2023. This is the first solo institutional exhibition of Allana Clarke’s work. A Trinidadian-American artist, Clarke is known for using materials such as sugar, cocoa butter and hair-bonding glue to construct works that confront histories of colonialism and Western standards of beauty.

“We’re so proud to have Allana making work inside Usdan Gallery for her first institutional solo exhibition and to be collaborating with Art Omi. Allana uses materials with a deep intelligence. She addresses current conversations about race and gender while reimagining art historical traditions around performance and abstraction. Visitors to the parallel exhibitions at Usdan Gallery and Art Omi will be amazed at her alchemical transformations of a toxic glue substance into sculptures that are luscious, strange and visually stunning,” said Anne Thompson, Director and Curator, Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery and Visual Arts Faculty at Bennington College.

“Art Omi is thrilled to be partnering with Usdan Gallery to present Allana Clarke’s exhibition A Particular Fantasy across our two venues,” said Sara O’Keeffe, Senior Curator at Art Omi. “Clarke’s labor-intensive work with hair-bonding glue offers a powerful metaphor for how to address toxic material, proposing reparative models that require substantial somatic and conceptual engagement. Her gorgeous sculptures–abstract but which nevertheless suggest the body–raise longstanding questions about opacity, refusal, and radical transformation in today’s world.”

Covering the artist’s practice over the past ten years, A Particular Fantasy takes its title from groundbreaking theorist, activist and poet Audre Lorde’s essay “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” (1984). In it, she describes her anger as a “molten pond at the core of me.” Clarke quotes the Lorde essay in her video Of My Longing & My Lack(2019), in which the narrator describes struggling to overcome internalized, generational hatred “because I am not some particular fantasy of a Black woman.”

Often her process begins with her pouring large, thick quantities of hair-binding glue onto a flat surface to create a “skin,” which she stretches, pushes, pulls, pleats and molds over a period of days using her hands and feet. Through this somatic technique, she transubstantiates a toxic substance into stunning objects that ripple, curl, shimmer, twist and glisten.

In dialogue with the poured latex works of Lynda Benglis and the stretched pantyhose of Senga Nengudi’s R.S.V.P. series, Clarke’s hair-binding-glue works examine the erotics and possibilities afforded by mutating a substance that binds into new, pliant formations. Embracing the messy, lubricious nature of the glue, Clarke’s resulting forms appear like the “molten ponds” described in Lorde’s essay, writhing, morphing and metabolizing on the wall and floor. Defying the practices governing this material’s traditional use, Clarke proposes its radical reincarnation, underscoring Lorde’s proposition that “it is out of Chaos that new worlds are born.” The artist experiences her methods as freeing her materials from their traumatic origins and, in turn, offering a metaphor to free herself from the violent compartmentalization of Black identity.

Beginning September 14, the Usdan Gallery exhibition features a stagelike area inside the gallery for the artist to construct a 25-foot-long floor sculpture using hair-bonding glue, her largest work to date. This work will be produced during Clarke’s residency at Bennington College (September 14 – October 5), and will be created while the gallery is open as part of the exhibition. A film of Clarke making the sculpture, produced by artist Cori Spencer, will join the exhibition once the sculpture is complete.

A Particular Fantasy has special relevance within the history of Bennington, which in 1952 presented the first retrospective of Jackson Pollock and in 1958 hosted the first U.S. exhibition of the Japanese Gutai group. As Clarke’s embodied work operates within mid-century ideas of “action painting” connected to both Pollock and the Gutai, the Usdan site underscores her advancement of modernist traditions—of abstraction and performative use of materials.

Art Omi’s exhibition presents a selection of Clarke’s celebrated wall-hung sculptures as well as large-format photographs that depict fragmented frames of the artist’s body. A video on view in both locations, Weaving De/Construction (2012), provides a conceptual link between the two sites.

On September 27 at 7 pm, Allana Clarke will give a lecture in the Tishman Auditorium at Bennington College. To celebrate their respective gallery openings, a reception will take place at Usdan Gallery on October 4 from 6 – 8 pm, and at Art Omi on October 8 from 3 – 5 pm.

Allana Clarke (b. 1987) is a Trinidadian-American artist whose practice is  built upon a foundation of uncertainty, curiosity, a will to heal, and an insistence upon freedom. Fluidly moving through photography, sculptural and text-based works, video and performance, her research-based practice incorporates socio-political and art historical texts, to contend with ideas of Blackness, the binding nature of bodily signification, and of the possibility to create non-totalizing identifying structures.

Clarke received her BFA in photography from New Jersey City University in 2011 and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Practice from MICA’s Mount Royal School of Art in 2014. She is an assistant professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. Clarke has been an artist in residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture, The Vermont Studio Center, Lighthouse Works, and Yaddo. She has received several grants including The Toby Devan Lewis Fellowship, Franklin Furnace Fund, and a Puffin Foundation Grant. Her work has been screened and performed at Gibney Dance in NY, Invisible Export NY, New School Glassbox Studio NY, FRAC in Nantes, France, SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin and was featured in the Bauhaus Centennial edition Bauhaus Now: Is Modernity an Attitude. She recently completed a 2020-21 NXTHVN fellowship, a mentorship program co-founded by artist Titus Kaphar. Clarke is represented by Galerie Thomas Zander in Cologne and Kavi Gupta Gallery in Chicago.

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Usdan Gallery

Free and open to the public, the 4,000-square-foot Suzanne Lemberg Usdan Gallery is part of the Helen Frankenthaler Visual and Performing Arts (VAPA) complex at Bennington College. Exhibits, events, publications and commissioned projects feature contemporary artists and new perspectives, advancing a lineage of groundbreaking exhibition-making at the college since its founding in 1932. Programming supports and is enriched by teaching at the College across the liberal arts. Bennington College was the first in the country to put the arts at the center of a liberal arts education, and one that has long embraced—for over 80 years—the idea that art can shape our way of thinking  about everything, from aesthetics and philosophy and literature to mathematics and environmental activism and community development.

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Art Omi believes that exposure to internationally diverse creative voices fosters tolerance and respect, raises awareness, inspires innovation, and ignites change. By forming community with creative expression as its common denominator, Art Omi creates a sanctuary for the artistic community and the public to affirm the transformative quality of art. Art Omi is a not-for-profit arts center with a 120-acre sculpture and architecture park and gallery, residency programs for international artists, writers, translators, musicians, architects and dancers. 

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1405 County Route 22

Ghent, NY 12075-3809 

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