The corner of Shady and Fifth avenues is missing its annual banner announcing the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Emerging Artist of the Year. But travelers who pass this notable East End intersection should not miss Dressed With D.R.E.S.S., a solo exhibition by the 2016 winner, Sarika Goulatia.
A series of five room-sized installations and sculptures, Dressed explores the artist’s near-fatal allergic reaction and subsequent journey through physical pain and personal reflection.
In 2012, Goulatia suffered from severe tendonitis aggravated by her obsessive and repetitive work methods and was prescribed sulfasalazine. The anaphylaxis and trauma she endured led to hospitalization and several weeks of recovery at home, her face and body transfigured beyond recognition. The acronym in the show’s title points to her diagnosis: Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms, a cellular disruption of white blood cells within the immune system.
Allowing the painful experience to gestate over four years, Goulatia has transformed her suffering and heightened awareness of her own body’s fragility into the works in Dressed. As observed in her recent solo exhibitions, much of Goulatia’s oeuvre is rooted directly in personal experience, but extrapolated and rendered to abstraction in elegant and alluring designs — designs created with painstaking precision and rigorous repetition.
Meticulous. Dangerous. Precarious. These are words that come to mind when entering the first-floor space encompassing “The flowing of pain side by side sometimes mingling sometime tingling then separating on its own journey.” Using a combination of nails, gesso and latex paint, Goulatia has laboriously created a dichromatic latticework of silver nails across seven white panels and four walls, creating a topographic map of pain and neural patterns. Wielding a nail gun as if it were an assault weapon, Goulatia draws a kinetic energy with each trail, each absence of the nail, fissuring the skin of the gallery, punctuating the space toward the viewer with each sharp point. The nails scatter and dissipate into the next room.
There, the viewer is invited to navigate between two separate works. The first features four linen curtains pierced with thousands of pins. A progression takes place from the first veil to the fourth — a discernible pattern of a rose disperses and dissolves into glistening patches of pinheads. The curtains are bookended by the piece “The courage to fall and fall in the face of calamity”; a wooden pew and small desk stand at opposite corners. Each is drilled at varying depths and circumferences; the effect is an organic lace resembling disturbed cells — a pattern echoed again in spherical form in the second floor installation “Against one’s own skin — a lesson in humility.” In this installation, the room is frozen in time to capture the movement of 72 multi-sized spheres that seem to roll and tumble from edge to edge, knocking a small bed off-kilter. The bed is no longer a place of rest or convalescence, but a punctured and raw emblem of suffering.
Although the scale and execution of the fourth room falls shy of the artist’s original vision, the pieces “Navigating the maze to get to the ‘Finish’” and “Juxtaposed” further underscore the narrative and illuminate Goulatia’s fastidious, process-oriented methodology. One sees a maze of 15,500 pins applied to a single 8-foot-long panel facing a low platform, lit from below and covered in 30 pounds of fake ice, and 166 pounds of pins cast in resin. The room resonates with the chill of neuropathy.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Goulatia’s work is the interplay between two- and three-dimensional forms, the way she contours movement with light and shadow. This playfulness is best exhibited in the last room, entitled “Life is a great tapestry of pins drawn together in immense and miraculous patterns.” One enters a darkened room where 17 sheets of black Stonehenge paper seem to float in midair. Upon entering the rectangle, one sees only blackness, but as the viewer moves to read the sheets from left to right, pinheads radiate a tapestry of circular and organic forms, grids and constellations. If you move a cell phone or flashlight to the surface, the forms begin to morph and dance upon its own shadows. Life within this universe is shifting, beguiling and elusive.
Although the PCA’s omission of any outdoor signage pointing to the stellar exhibition within might lead one to pass over or dismiss Dressed, the venue hosts a contemplative and extraordinary view of an artist on the rise. Certainly one not to overlook.