Mark's new body of work stems from a recent Fulbright research fellowship in Turkey, during which the artist visited living rock monuments throughout the country.
Goldfinch is proud to present 36° 15' 43" N 29° 59' 14" E, a solo exhibition of new sculptures by SaraNoa Mark. SaraNoa Mark's practice investigates traces left by time, as they exist in landscapes and in collective memory. Using lasting materials like carved clay and discarded stones, the artist explores notions of permanence and erasure, questioning why certain pieces of history remain visible, while others fall away and are lost. Through intricate sculptural work that "rhymes" with, rather than replicates, ancient artifacts and sites of antiquity, Mark considers how we task certain objects with surviving time and how, in turn, these objects shape our perceptions of history. In other words, when we only see what we're reminded of, what do we neglect in the process? What remains hidden, but still present?
Mark's new body of work stems from a recent Fulbright research fellowship in Turkey, during which the artist visited living rock monuments throughout the country. Among these sites was Myra, an ancient Lycian metropolis, in the present-day Antalya Province. Now a Turkish national park and international tourist destination, the site is known for its rock-cut tombs, carved into the vertical cliff faces of a mountain. With further exploration of the area, Mark visited the mountain's other side, quietly tucked behind orange groves, away from the crowds. The mountain's "backside" revealed rock cut staircases and tombs, equally as complex and mysterious as the carved ruins of the front. For Mark, this "secret" or neglected part of an ancient site threw into very literal relief questions about pilgrimage and abandonment, value and neglect. 36° 15' 43" N 29° 59' 14" E, the coordinates of Myra's reverse mountainside, invites us into a new landscape, where what is discarded, buried, and remembered is exposed all at once-a historical record remade, and then remade again.
"This project is partially supported by an Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events, as well as a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency, a state agency through federal funds provided by the National Endowment for the Arts."
SaraNoa Mark bY Assistant Director & Exhibition Curator Elizabeth Lalley
It is hard to confront time, though our temporality is "non-negotiable," as SaraNoa Mark has noted before. We are unable to escape time's continual reminders, and they are forever greeting us in the largest and smallest of ways: through the body's aches and pains; through an old song that thrusts us back into a memory of heartbreak; in those moments when we run late or forget an obligation entirely. Through words like "throwback" and "birthday" and "extinction" and "anniversary." And then, of course, there's always death.
It's also hard to write about time-maybe because it's always moving, and maybe because it's experienced immeasurably. Mark has said that she feels "inside of time" when she makes work. When I first read those words, I was struck by a feeling of vertigo. Aren't we always "inside" of time? Isn't it entirely inescapable? While it's true that we're never really apart from it, the more I attempted to imagine myself on the "inside," the more I recognized something discordant, something that pointed to the way "time" has become something strangely outside of us, falsely bent to fit the structures of our modern lives. It can become menacing in this way, like something pressing on us, always antagonizing, always an impossible race.
So much is assumed when time is discussed in contemporary life, and these assumptions often favor the human-centered, the able-bodied, the standardized, and the productive. This is time under capitalism-time that has altered and degraded natural processes. It's accelerated time, and it can be exhausting, and worse. Time is personal, certainly. But it is extraordinarily impersonal, too. Insects experience time differently than we do. So do trees, and rocks. If we spend too much time thinking about time, it's possible to lose our grip on things, and time doesn't care. Maybe that's why we always move so quickly to Apocalyptic scenarios: it's a way out of time, for everybody.
For Mark, things take time and work develops slowly. She observes places at length, paying attention to the changing light, to the ways a single material like rock or water can reveal itself differently over periods of time. Translated back into their practice, the result of these observations is the gradual transformation of materials through touch and time alone. She draws as a way of seeing. Using lasting materials like stone and clay, Mark lets materials stay what they are, accumulating mark after mark after mark. Between each mark, she cleans her carving tools, ensuring that clay is cleanly removed and no residue is left. No color is added, nothing is applied. In this way, Mark's drawing practice mimics the elements: it wears down a surface, in slow and patterned strokes, like wind whipping across a landscape over time, evincing that time touches everything, always.
In Mark's mind, landscapes are drawings, marked not just by wind and water, but by the gestures of people and the movements of communities over time. It makes sense to me that Mark uses the word "place" more often than "landscape;" "place" is something known from the inside. To know a place is to spend a long time paying attention, not only to the appearance of things, but to the smells, the sounds, the humidity. During a Fulbright research trip in Turkey, Mark explored living rock monuments, existing for millennia in the region's cliffs and jagged outcroppings. There, Mark's methods of research and observation involved ways of sensing that many of us experienced more as children than we do now: crouching, peering closely at the surfaces of things, climbing over rocks, sprawling on ground with the sun on our faces. In the afternoons, Mark rested their body on ancient carvings, created centuries ago. Through these movements, which inevitably find their way into her sculptures, Mark engaged in an intimate exchange with an ancient place; the past was immediate, visceral, and understood as something interwoven with us in the present moment.
We often explore questions of time through stories or poems-epics, ballads, elegies to things lost. Mark's carved clay tablets can appear both as intricate aerial landscapes and as echoes of the cuneiform tablets, hieroglyphics, or ancient scrolls that hold much of the artist's attention. Often referring to her practice in terms of language and her marks as an alphabet, Mark is deliberate in using the word "rhyme" to describe the way they respond to ancient objects and places. Instead of replicating or reproducing an artifact in order for it to exist anew in the world, Mark makes work that speaks with historical artifacts as if they're old friends, conversing across time and space. In this way, the past is not simply something that was; it is always accumulating as the present. As an artist, who so intimately engages with the past, Mark seems, to me-a viewer-somehow unafraid of time. Or, at least, unafraid of facing it, both in the present moment and in the deep gulf that comprises the past. Her works emulate antiquities, but when the virtue of simply being "old" is removed, they remind us of the immediacy of objects, the mysterious ways they've always moved us.
After a period spent with Mark's work, I was unexpectedly reminded of Walt Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," a piece of writing I hadn't thought about in a long time. In the poem, Whitman-the Transcendentalist who wrote about the Manhattan streets with as much fondness as he did rocks and trees-stands on a riverbank, watching a ferry move across the water. Taking in the surrounding sights and sounds, he addresses everyone who has ridden the ferry before and those who will in future times: "the others that are to follow me, / the ties between them and me." With the poem as an enduring object, always existing in a reader's present, Whitman writes of connective threads of experience, shared by strangers across time. These threads are subtle but enduring, dissolving boundaries between "I" and "you" and "we."
Like Whitman's epic, Mark's work may engage the deep past, but through it, I find myself thinking about the expanse of time always unfolding ahead. This unknowable expanse, inhabited by our children and grandchildren and on and on, can feel entirely abstracted, impersonal, and having little to do with us. We may be specific in our individual bodies, but we are not unique in our embodiment. Here now and later, gone; others will arrive, or as Whitman says to a future reader: "Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a / crowd." All of this matters, art seems to say. By compressing time and bringing the past to us so closely, Mark's work asks us to recognize time as something that moves through and within us, to see it as something we intimately inhabit. Perhaps, when we look back or gaze ahead into gulfs of time, the distances we expect to find there are not so wide.