The Labyrinth of Abstraction: Victoria Haven’s They all stopped walking
The hedge maze is one of the most memorable images of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. In the Northwest, most of us know this labyrinth isn’t real (it was part of a constructed set) because we are familiar with Oregon’s Timberline Lodge, whose building served as the hotel’s exterior in the film and has no maze. Seattle artist Victoria Haven’s (NAP #6, #49) show at Greg Kucera Gallery, They all stopped walking, references a scene that takes place inside The Shining’s maze. At first, it was hard to see a connection between this new work and the artist’s earlier paintings and sculptures of abstracted, geometric forms that I knew so well. The older forms even make a few appearances, as does an entire wall of words extracted from text messages that had been turned into woodblock prints and separated into pairs that only make sense together sometimes. I found myself intrigued but unsure of how everything came together. I was on the brink of lost.
But, when Haven spoke of her desire to question abstraction in the new pieces, the pathway became clearer. The disjointedness that had felt so rigid and real—between words, between mediums, between what I had seen before and what I was seeing now—dissolved, as if it had been in my imagination all along. In its place, I found a show that continues an artist’s longstanding pursuit by starting from a new, unexpected place.—Erin Langner, Seattle contributor
Victoria Haven | They all stop walking gallery installation view, Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.
Erin Langner: What drew you to text messages as a source of material for the installation Subtitles?
Victoria Haven: All of the work in They all stop walking sprang from a two-month, self orchestrated residency in Los Angeles, two years ago. The decision to use text conversations as source material was prompted by my continued pursuit to understand and define abstraction and my thinking about language as a form of abstraction.
I'd been thinking a lot about the swift and slippery nature of digital conversations, which for me, like so many people, have rapidly taken over as a primary form of communication. How a predictive-text error here, an omitted question mark there can shift the meaning of a fleeting remark. I find this phenomenon as fascinating as I do frustrating. The vantage point of L.A. (a city of screenwriters, story tellers and a vast population with a complex relationship with what's real and what's not) shaped my broader thoughts about abstraction and language into this particular question: can abstraction form a narrative? Subtitles is a response to that question.
EL: Were there consistencies you looked for among the words you mined from your text messages?
VH: Initially, the only parameters for my selection process were based on extracting two words (pairing one sent with one received) from every text exchange I had spanning the period of about one year. Sometimes there would be only one option if only one word, letter or symbol had been used. For example; “ha,” “huh,” “ok,” “?,” “V,” “coffee,” “boo.”
Other selections were more impulsive. I based them on my own memory of a conversation (Albers, cowboy, twig) or just my preference of one word over another (protagonist, corner, tape). At one point early into it I realized that when written chronologically, the lists were veering toward the “dark” (though this was not a surprise), so I made a conscious effort to choose more prepositions and salutations, resulting in a much more open-ended reading.
EL: A number of your earlier works, such as the Northwest Field Recordings, reference real places in the Northwest. What brought about your interest in using the fictional Northwest of The Shining for the Jump Cuts series?
VH: During those impactful weeks in L.A., I went with a friend to the Stanley Kubrick show at LACMA. I was a couple weeks into my two month studio sublet, anxiously “waiting to see” how my experience of Los Angeles might effect my work. I didn't want to force it, but I went there with the idea that a different sort of West Coast light/atmosphere/attitude from my familiar Northwest boundary might result in something entirely unknown. I admit I was thinking of the Light and Space artists: "Translucency! Plastics! Color!”
But then I saw a prop version of the hedge maze from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining in the exhibit—the arrangement of forlorn flocked foam trying hard to contain its green geometry of simple forms. I snapped a photo (birds-eye view) not knowing what I'd do with it but that I'd found what I'd come there for. I laughed out loud and said, “Of course,” as I realized I was right back where I'd started from. Sort of. I was no aficionado, but it's local lore 101 that the outdoor scenes from The Shining were filmed at Timberline Lodge on iconic Mt. Hood, a Northwest icon.
Victoria Haven | Void II, 2014 5-color reduction linocut, 20 x 17 inches, edition of 17. Image courtesy of Greg Kucera Gallery.
EL: The show’s title was also culled from The Shining’s script. What was it about such a simple directive that resonated so strongly for you?
VH: "They all stop walking " is one of the sixteen screen directions that make up the vinyl script on the wall that is an element of Jump Cuts. That particular screen direction just sets up so many immediate questions. Who stops walking? Where are they walking? Why do they all stop walking? Are they awestruck or terrified? In this case, it’s both. It's a pivotal moment and screen direction in the movie where certain truths about the characters and their otherworldly abilities are revealed to the audience. It's a powerful example of how a subtle movement or lack of movement can shape perception and tell a story.
They all stop walking is on view at Greg Kucera Gallery through June 27. Victoria Haven lives and works in Seattle, WA. She earned her BFA in painting from the University of Washington and her MFA from Goldsmiths College at the University of London. Her work has recently been shown at Planthouse (New York, NY), the Seattle Art Museum (Seattle, WA) and PDX Contemporary Art (Portland, OR). Haven is the recipient of the Neddy at Cornish Award, the Jentel Residency and a project grant from Seattle’s Office of Arts & Culture.
Erin Langner is an arts writer and a program associate at Seattle Arts & Lectures