Artweek: 3/18/93  vol. 25 #6, page 20

Breaking the Rules:  Lisa Bloomfield at UC Riverside

Women artists sometimes tend to underestimate their work.  Without realizing it, they have been undermined by the art world's "wait and see" attitude. The two are linked: the fraudulent and the tolerant, the passive and the aggressive.  Lisa Bloomfield claims her "generic" portraits of ten women represent a "work in progress."  These untitled biographies, currently at UC Riverside's University Art Gallery,  serve her vision well.  Fragmented "bits," narrated against a background reminiscent of Victorian wallpaper, reveal a complex,  condensed universe as Bloomfield assumes a cultural connection that women can appreciate.  She utilizes the "same-but-different" definition of metaphor to shape five triptychs of intertwined personal histories.

In a way that recalls Medieval manuscripts, Bloomfield's iconic approach conventionalizes the women for aesthetic purposes.  Though illuminating, the portraits remain dependent upon the printed biographical material for identification. These five paired portraits, each with a panel of text, combine in a symbolic fictional construct.  The fictionalized anxiety recalls modern themes:  always trying to escape the hugeness of our landscape; moving interiorly to the "heart of darkness."  Sara, set against a green leafy background, searches through the "blank index cards" of her life's work for a meaning where maybe none exists.  Her opposite, Emily, working diligently, has a commercial breakthrough.

Bloomfield's three-part inventions work contrapuntally, bringing together fragmented histories written in a "dialogic" alternation: the narrative comes to a provisional end in which one history takes on the characteristics of the other, thus losing identity to a composite expression of an unresolved conflict.  The individual women find meaning from the illusions they harbor: whether in business transactions, socially specific relationshps, family ties,  gender roles.  Their portraits objectify them to a specific symbolic order.  The viewer struggles in the symbolic doubling process of mirror-imaging an identity.

We know these women externally,  but see them from within ourselves.  We perceive their portraits as being the "same-but-different."   But when considered with the text, the portraits create an immediacy and alter the way we view their opposing histories.  To some degree, the narratives become autobiographical.  Before I had a strong idea of what Bloomfield's exhibit was about, her use of narrative caught my attention and held it.  There is nothing shaky or ambiguous about her biographies. We recognize immediately the obsessive necessity for approval spliced into the dialogic text.  The metonymic world of language works: to be given only essentials instead of full knowledge, to be given only the women's first names, shows how we, ourselves, want to be thought  of as being the "same-but-different" in today's postmodern  world of verbal symbolism.  The combined patterns and information as simultaneous visual elements build the contextual tonality that characterizes Bloomfield's work.  To see the portraits without a text or text without an image denies the viewer critical clues to the logic of the presentation.  The face, the narrator's voice and words translate in the strictest cognitive sense a passionate meaning.  Each composed triptych functions independently within the presentation of the other five triptychs.

"Emerging artists," working in image and text, have put the discursive back to work for the big issues they want to illuminate.  And like Lisa Bloomfield, they look for ways to link the external world (as being natural and civilized) to the private one (that divides us into a body and brain).  Breaking the rules of fiction for rhetorical purposes might go against traditional notions of what makes a good story; nevertheless, breaking the rules causes the viewer to ask questions where everything is open for interpretation -- as if the fragments (that part belonging in a historical mainstream) could tell the structure of the life revealed.