Studio  July 13, 2022  Barbara A. MacAdam

Studio Visit & Gallery Viewing with Stefana McClure

Bienvenu Steinberg & Partner Gallery.

Stefana McClure, The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, 2021. Cut paper, wooden shelf. 7 x 10 in. (ball: 18.5 in. circumference). SM072. 

Approaching the entrance to Stefana McClure’s house and studio in Beacon, New York, I was taken aback by the unexpectedly serene Japanese feel to the architecture. Set on a hill in a wooded area, McClure’s studio is a Minimalist state-of-the-art space, strikingly clean yet unsterile and relaxed. The studio itself is attached to the home McClure shares with her partner artist Jill Baroff.  

McClure, who was born and raised in Northern Ireland, attended art college in London, and then spent twelve years in Japan, studying at Kyoto Seika University. She also worked as a translator and interpreter.

Courtesy of the artist.

Stefana McClure, PlayTime: English subtitles to a film by Jacques Tati, 2020. Wax transfer paper mounted on Dibond. 39.5 x 60 inches.

“It had a huge impact on my work,” says McClure. She studied Japanese paper making at the university. While there, she immersed herself in watching films from the video store, ranging from Ingmar Bergman’s brooding, psychologically penetrating films to Japanese classics like Ozu Yasuhiro’s Tokyo Story to the slapstick comedies of Jacques Tati.

Fascinated by language, its connection with the visual, and the craft of paper making, she learned to speak fluent Japanese and found herself shocked by the many mistranslations she began to encounter, attributing them not only to linguistic mistakes but also to cultural misunderstandings.

McClure maintains that it’s “the gray areas between cultures and languages” that most interest her and she addresses this subject specifically throughout her multifaceted work.

Bienvenu Steinberg & Partner Gallery.

Stefana McClure, The Wind-Up Doll: a poem by Forough Farrokhzad, 2021. Three poetry-wrapped stones, polished Hungarian hemp cord, Irish linen twine, cut nail. 6 x 7 x 4 in. (15.24 x 17.78 x 10.16 cm). SM078.

The art for which she first became known for, her “Films on Paper," are hand-written transcriptions of subtitles, one line written atop the other in such a way that she could produce an entire script in one stripe. To penetrate and unravel the meanings of the works, she began to reproduce—or more accurately, rewrite—by hand, everything from the Japanese anime series “Rakudai” to novels by Dostoevsky, showing how each rendition of the text tells a different story, how variously it expresses itself in its parts and as a whole.

One striking example consists of five balls composed of lines from deconstructed Dostoyevsky novels. The balls have been rolled and pinned under such tension that they seem ready to explode and reconfigure themselves. The windings and potential rewindings lead to multiple readings, rereadings, and misreadings. It’s not only about who writes, but also who translates and who reads.

The sixty-two-year-old artist compulsively engages with many different media, from craft to writing to performance, and she often mixes them all together. She continues to work with film subtitles, hand-copying them one line atop the last, imprinting them on “super super sensitive dye-transfer paper,” she explains. “Two and a half hours of dialogue are visible at once.”

She adds the titles through what she calls “a subtractive method.” That is, as she adds words, the ones printed beneath become ghosts holding, but not showing, information. She scrapes the writing off the transfer paper layer by layer. These works are color-coded—black for film noir, orange for Irish films, and yellow for comedy.

She has lately been focusing on women’s issues, as one can see in the title of her recent show at Bienvenu Steinberg & Partner Gallery in New York: I See you Seeing Me (Meeting the Female Gaze).

Among the dramatic works in the show were "Protest Stones"—sculptures featuring two rocks encased in printed poetry and set in delicate netted bags that hang like bolas, or weights ready to be swung and hurled.

“It reveals,” says gallerist Josée Bienvenu, “a certain softness, embedding those protest stones in a protective net.”

Courtesy of the artist.

Stefana McClure, Silenced Voices: Forough Farrokhzad (The Wind-Up Doll), detail, 2021. Moleskine notebook, perforated archival ink-jet print, pearls. 9.75 x 15 x 1 inches.

Further embodying emotional dichotomies is a necklace composed of ten vintage steel axe heads wrapped in the prose of Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. The trick here lies in projecting conflicting emotions in unexpected expressions.

The embrace of rage and warmth is best communicated in McClure’s rendition of the writing of the rebellious late Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad, known for her protest poems. McClure interprets it by printing out the original lines of Farrokhzad’s poems in Persian, punctuated by bright white pearls resembling notes on a staff. The poignant portrayal sets a rhythm and time as it establishes a sense of experience and a memory of romance lost.

For an example of the complexities of reading, there are hand-knit paper strips of comics telling stories of female valor. McClure creates a fabric of power, most notably in her rendition of Wonder Woman. Said Lynda Carter, who portrayed the titular hero in the 1970s TV series, “Every time someone comes up to me and says that Wonder Woman helped them while they were closeted, it reminds me how special the role is.”

 Bienvenu Steinberg & Partner Gallery.

Stefana McClure, Wonder Woman: Flaming Fury, 2015. Knitted paper. 9 x 6.50 in. (22.86 x 16.51 cm). SM527.

McClure herself is very jolly. Her strong feminist opinions and political positions are countered by a soft edge, assertive but not didactic. She sees so-called women’s work not as trivial, housewifery, or a weakness, but as an important component of feminism. To her, weaving, knitting, and handiwork are indicative of the complexity of female thinking. At the same time, these works meet their expressive match in the references to rock hurling and anger that we see in the stone-filled mesh bags and schoolboys’ jacket pockets. It’s a delicate balance.

About the Author

Barbara A. MacAdam

Barbara A. MacAdam is a New York-based freelance editor and writer, who worked at ARTnews for many years as well as for Art and Auction, New York Magazine, Review Magazine, and Latin American Literature and Arts. She currently reviews regularly for The Brooklyn Rail.

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