Lydia Moyer and Tory Wright
Lump Gallery
Through March 30

The word “idioglossia” describes a secret language shared by twins. Lydia Moyer and Tory Wright are not twins, but they have cultivated their own secret visual language in a collaborative ‘zine called Hateful, a virtually wordless collaged compendium of archival images, cut, pasted and photocopied in utilitarian black and white. But there is nothing mundane about Hateful‘s refined yet cryptic aesthetic.

The collaboration seems to have opened a portal through which the artists have tapped into alternate modes of thinking and seeing, giving rise to a curious alternative visual universe in which gender is framed as a kind of outmoded absurdist theater, with male and female characters inhabiting sequestered and differentiated existential realms, a visual lexicon that refuses intergender interaction and enforces separation. Hateful‘s odd world is punctuated by guns and sharp knives, deserted hallways, random tigers, monster cacti, life, death and reproductive systems (both biological and technological).

Moyer and Wright have crafted their first Hateful exhibition at Lump Gallery in Raleigh. It’s a spooky-fun effort that feels haunted by two sets of twins: those encountered at the end of a hallway in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and the indelible young sisters of Diane Arbus’ Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey.

A contiguous line of black and white photocopied prints on standard 8 ½-by-11 sheets of paper wraps around half the gallery. The prints are affixed to the walls with uneven strips of black cloth tape. The tape itself is a design element that absorbs and echoes Hateful‘s dense imagery and generates its own visual poetics, suggesting the black bars that mask identity, arm bands of mourning, the gaffer’s tape that silences a kidnap victim or restrains a partner in erotic bondage.

The other wall is relatively spare, white space interrupted by a few large poster-sized prints and two small sculptural objects placed on the floor. There is no gallery checklist and none of the works are titled, so the show reads as a single statement or installation work. Key images emerge and reappear in different compositions throughout the show, visual hiccups or stutterings that imbue the viewing experience with a literalized sense of déjà vu.

Despite the show’s holistic format, there is one print, placed at the front edge of the contiguous line, which could be seen as the first piece of the show. Everything about it pushes for the idea of doubling, and it reads inescapably as a double self-portrait of the two artists. The top half of the composition is a found snapshot, two girls, probably sisters, each accompanied by two stuffed-animal dogs, seated on a beat-up couch in a wood-paneled family room. Below is another double image, a Victorian era portrait of two sisters in matching dark dresses. The surfeit of doubling on this single, loaded page seems to reveal something about Moyer and Wright’s process, which is by design the fruit of a two-headed, sisterly effort. It is a process of collage that has something to say about the layered meanings of collage itself. This is work that could only be achieved through the superimposition of one psyche upon another, the outcome of double-minded action.

Collage as a form has been endlessly reinvented by artists such as Kurt Schwitters, Joseph Cornell, Richard Hamilton, Ray Johnson, Bruce Conner and, more recently, Marnie Weber. In Moyer and Wright’s interventions, they tease out complexities and tensions based on proximity, a decidedly cinematic strategy, so that the viewer experiences a kind of static jump-cut as her eye passes from one image to the next.

But one of Hateful‘s visual tropes, derived from decidedly collagist interventions, is the usurpation of the face. Faces are elided, obscured, faded and cropped. Often they are interrupted by overlaid fragments of the self-same face, a multiplicity of surfaces that paradoxically communicates a subjective interiority. I recognize what a Cubist idea that isthe reassembly of surface fragments to convey depthbut the dimensionality that Moyer and Wright are gunning for seems to be a psychic rather than spatial one.

Hateful culminates in an idiosyncratic visual grammar, fragments of meaning that form a highly charged, mysterious vernacular. There is no one place where the eye comes to restwe circulate through the space, working through imagery in black and white, the color-filled world kept at bay outside the gallery walls. This looping circularity is embodied in the show’s only video work, a fleetingly short choreography of the image of a fantastically tattooed woman with a circular void at the center of her face, with a second face inset within the empty sphere. In the video, the face-within-a-face is made to move, simplistically, obviously manipulated by an unseen hand, a floating, destabilizing oscillation, as if the interior face were somehow perpetually and unsuccessfully seeking its proper place and position within its host face, a surreal histoire of a woman trapped within the body of another.

This article appeared in print with the headline “Of two minds.”