Break Here: Colleen Keihm and Nicole Mauser Essay by Elizabeth Lalley

Break Here: Colleen Keihm and Nicole Mauser

Essay by Elizabeth Lalley


Break here.​ It commands, doesn’t it? The words, floating in the depthlessness of a page or screen, are not physically rooted or attached to anything we can see, but they suggest something real and even tangible–something with the ​ability ​to break in the first place. Action is needed, and we’re invited to imagine what exactly is being offered to us, what we might alter or reimagine and even remake. We might feel a sensation of excitement at the thought of welcome disruption, even if the origins of the feelings–the point of breaking–are abstract or ineffable; we may find that those sensations are no less strong.

In their respective practices, both Nicole Mauser and Colleen Keihm use abstraction, spatial distortion, and erasure in works that ask us to remain acutely aware of our gaze, even if our eyes dart with uncertainty as we attempt to perceive what’s before us. Individually, in their bodies of work, each artist has posed visual conundrums where light and shadow cut and rearrange space; where marks are made and removed, leaving their traces behind; and where the viewer’s awareness of looking, with all of its possibilities and discomforts, is heightened. At times, viewing their work can even feel a little vertiginous, as though we’re looking through a portal into a space with no ground within it to steady us. Or, perhaps we’re reminded of looking through a window, where light is fractured and redirected and fragments of both the inside and outside are reflected, brought together on a single plane. Our gaze is suspended at some moments, deflected at others.

In Mauser’s paintings and collages, brushstrokes glide and sometimes stutter, as though momentarily snagged before moving freely once again. At times, our eyes seem to move not simply across and around the surfaces of Mauser’s works, but also through them. Similarly, Keihm’s photographs ask the viewer’s eyes to navigate spatially uncertain constructions of light, shadow, and form. As the title implies, Mauser and Keihm both invite the productive uncertainty that an interruption or unexpected motion can present, and here, they amplify their own proclivities for bending, stretching, refracting, and blurring by bringing their practices together in new collaborations.

When fused together, painting and photography interact with a tension that pushes the processes and materials back and forth, as though each medium is carving out room for new possibilities within the other. In ​Break Here​, the works presented possess a strong presence of human gesture, as hesitations, assertions, disruptions, and insertions are continually revealed. In the compositions of the collaborative works on view, there is a sense that flatness, depth, and density are in constant negotiation, as forms are added and removed, making room for new arrangements. In some ways, these works could be said to be filled with cracks, but not the kind that suggests a weakness to their foundations; instead, these cracks–the places where edges meet, where one form, color, or fragment of light touches another–are suggestive of potentiality within the works themselves. As both artists demonstrate, there are always new spaces to uncover within and beyond the surface of things, and, perhaps, we break through to them when we look carefully enough.