ARTS

Navigating the humor and visual language of Dina Gadia

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CCP Thirteen Artists Awards recipient Dina Gadia talks about the current anxieties presented by the nature of the world today and how her work has shifted during the pandemic. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Dina Gadia’s latest solo exhibition, “Navigating the Abstract,” further pushes her exploration between verbal and visual syntax, a collection of thought exercises, reaching into what’s been buried in the recesses of knowledge and memory.

A profusion of wit and humor, Gadia’s work is a combination of familiar imagery and text, the produced dialogue and tension of which leads to something uncanny. Here, the collection feels more somber. In “Navigating the Abstract,” it feels like there are no jokes left to crack, but still there remains messages to deliver.

The clean lines and images of her paintings echo elementary school flashcards, simple images and text meant to jog one’s memory. It is a rapid fire round of word associations, the results of which prove to be a peek into our own subconscious. Three of the paintings are graphic text pieces, some instructional, though all of which elicit a reaction or memory. A nostalgic quality still pervades this collection of paintings — something carried over from her previous work, where some of the source material is gleaned from decades-old comic illustrations. These images look almost like they were taken from textbooks, coupled with straightforward language, and everyone imbued with meaning.

“Navigating the Abstract” was on view at Silverlens Galleries between December 5 and 23, 2020, though Gadia has been preparing for it since September 2019. In the exhibition notes, writer Arvin Flores writes about the works’ representation of “a fluctuating state of conditions, mirroring an endless chain of associations internal to itself.” The deconstruction of signification recalls Derridean philosophy and the endless chain of signification, where each thought attempts to retranslate something new according to what is already known, offshooting into concepts specific to the viewer, and all of which are true.

The interplay of Gadia’s visual metaphors and the outlined text require construction, a putting together of a puzzle where the meaning is just beyond its face value. “Throbbing-Pulsing-Pounding-Drumming-Hum!”, for example, depicts a literal ear to the ground — an invitation for caution. Her text paintings are a bit more straightforward and authoritative, with clean graphic lines and space. “TOUCH ME NOT” — through its use of language and its inherent meanings, as well as its contextual value — recalls the country’s colonized past, and in turn creates a dialogue with “Container,” a painting which depicts a landless globe. Here, there are directional arrows, despite the lack of destinations, an astute observation of the transient state of how life as we know it has become.

Gadia has spent over a year with these ideas, pictorial representations that have sprouted prior to and during the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Flores writes: “the artist seems to point to current social anxieties that affect the imaginary, navigating the abstract, uncertain moment.”

"Throbbing-Pulsing-Pounding-Drumming-Hum!" by Dina Gadia. Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

She, along with fellow artist Allan Balisi, has also been making zines under the name Saturnino Basilia. Inherent in their practice is a strong visual language, as well as a playfulness towards text, negotiating between language and new meanings generated by these pairings. Both artists are showing this aspect of their practice at Blanc Gallery’s group exhibition, “Binding II”, alongside artists like Victor Balanon, Mariano Ching, and Louie Cordero. Binding II is on exhibit until Jan. 30.

Here, Gadia talks about current anxieties presented by the nature of the world today, how this affected her preparations for “Navigating the Abstract,” and what lies ahead for her.

When did you start conceiving the material for “Navigating the Abstract?”

I started preparing and writing down notes September [2019].

Although current conditions have understandably shifted due to the pandemic, the themes still lie quite closely to your previous work. Would you say that there were obvious shifts for you, as someone who makes things, caused by these changes?

The circumstances have effects. It greatly informed and altered my perception of what is visible and audible and its seeming absence. Now, there’s even more question with our notions of time, faith, and images than what we have and already been accustomed to.

What is your usual process when you approach your work? Has it changed much in the past year?

I have a scattered system of working. Collage, being the backbone of my work, holds them together. It changed in that I have become more aware of how demanding the task requires, not in terms of finding materials (this is always a given), but making art in itself. It’s not easy as it seems.

"The optimism of those I admire who make art and music has kept me nourished," says Gadia. "Their commendable work in the past and present are food for the soul I’d like to take any time." Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

How do you decide on these image-text relationships? Are the ideas behind them more prescribed or do you enjoy the open-endedness that can result from these relationships?

I incorporate text into my images when it may directly speak about the work either as a single entity or as part of a whole, without disregarding the possibilities of meanings.

Does the idea come first or do they sort of fall into place as you work?

They fall into place as I go along, but it always starts with an idea. It may come from a concrete example, an impression, a feeling, a memory, instinct, in odd and unusual ways.

What are the things that have kept you afloat during this time?

The optimism of those I admire who make art and music has kept me nourished; their commendable work in the past and present are food for the soul I’d like to take any time.

From left: "Container," "Beginning, Middle, End" and "A Way of Telling" from Dina Gadia's show, "Navigating the Abstract." Photo courtesy of SILVERLENS GALLERIES

Would you say that the current conditions have actually been better for making work?

It made making work more difficult because thoughts and feelings are always a direct cause of what is happening in our surroundings. It is much harder to get into an enjoyable state of working and creative frame of mind.

In terms of your practice, are there things you might have wanted to do or explore during this time but couldn’t?

There are a few zine ideas for the small press I co-run that’s been in the pile for years. It’ll be nice to start working on those.

Is there anything integral to your process or practice you can’t access now that you miss?

The mobility of going to certain places within the city without the worry of getting sick.