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Veiled Confessions by Erin Cluley

Hillyer Art Space Presents: Veiled By Erin Cluley
March 2, 2007 – April 6, 2007

Gallery Hours: Monday – Friday 10 AM – 5 PM and by appointment: 202-338-0680
International Arts & Artists – 9 Hillyer Court NW
Washington, DC 20008

“Bless me father for I have sinned—“

At the age of reason, which for me was the age of eight, before receiving First Holy Communion one is to be in the state of grace so the child makes his/her first confession. At the side of the altar I stood at the front of the line with the others decked out in miniature suits and dresses unaware of what it would be like confess my sins. I opened the large heavy door and from the dim depressing stained glass filtered dust my eyes filled with a stale bright light. Father Callahan was seated in a stout wooden throne-like chair. He was dressed in a casual black short sleeve shirt, starched to crispness and his vestigial tab displayed through a square cutout in the shirt collar stood out in bright white. I anxiously wiggled up into the more modest chair that was next to him and Father nodded solemnly. He leaned his elbow onto the arm of the chair right next to mine and gingerly veiled his eyes. “Bless me Father for I have sinned,” I said frightened. The light of the bright room was vast and in in its open-ness my sins neatly disappeared, though there were hardly and my penance was the repeating black beads of the rosary.

In the airy-beauty of geometric complexity, Baltimore Artist Erin Cluley’s exhibit “Veiled” at Hillard Art Space in DC plays on the emotions in a similar way. When things go white a vastness of undetermined dimension opens up and Cluley’s work, in the smaller, more intimate gallery at Hillyer Art Space is ostentatious in the same way yet brings the viewer to an inner place of meditation. Cluley’s two larger elegant works on suspended translucent mylar (one titled, “Veiled Confession” that stands a few inches off the wall and includes a ghostly outlined figure and the other more-obsessively rendered veil, titled Veil of “One-Thousand Indulgences,” is suspended from the ceiling in the adjacent side of the space). Both are executed in meticulous cutout patterns that brought me right back to my frightful first confession without even reading the titles. They are and are also (befittingly) particular to the Islamic and Moorish culture where regular, irregular and star-shaped tiles are juxtaposed to create geometrical shapes that flow over the whole of the chosen surface. The patterns reveal a mathematical link to ancient poetry and music where the rhythms flow towards infinity, a metaphor for eternal life. Erin Cluley’s veils include the same offering however they include a simultaneous absence and presence with her use of hand-cut space. This responds to Catholicism but, more so, of the larger questions of religion and faith that reside in the juxtapositions.

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Shortly after receiving my First Holy Communion my second confession was much different. This time, in pure tradition, I stood in line with the others in the dark rear of the church and stepped behind the heavy curtain into the dim light of the mini-cathedral-like confessional carved in its opulent lush extra. When my knees lowered to the red plush kneeler it triggered the dim light to go off. Left in darkness I could hear the rambling murmur of the young sinner on the opposite side of Father Callahan. There was a shift and the small room filled with a sifted light. This kind of inner light reflected off the front of Father’s face taking me to close inspection of the screen that I found was made up of tiny intricate basket-weaved crosses. Was it a comfort to easy the sting of my harsh penance? “Bless me father for I have sinned,” I said sheepishly into light.

Brought close to the surface of Cluley’s “Veiled Confession” I discovered that her obsessivly cut patterns were not as exacted as they at once appeared. They were actually slightly irregular, their lines more attuned delicate silver-point drawings. That, for me made they slightly more lovingly and, following her shown hand, I began to experience the intricacy and subtle shallow shadow play against the surface of the wall and, more importantly, the source of focus which was the small steel plates darkly layered behind the cut outs of the Veil—a wonderful meditation for that undetermined expansiveness of the white of space and… maybe faith? Its as if through the atmosphere of solitude in Cluley’s veils is a fusion of background where one cannot help but concentrate on the intimate. Her multifaceted layers, stained over and over repeat her obsessive die cutting but in a positive appliqué, painted on the surface. Also her repeating of symbols questions perhaps the cyclical compulsions of the catholic faith, condemnation, incantation, reconciliation.

It was then I gave my attention the ghostly siren figure painted on the surface of the mylar. The figure caught my attention from across the room but up close I could take in its wonderfully painted outline. In opaque white on the pearly white soft tooth and not without condemnation and a bit of guilt—a good Catholic recipe- the young woman is provocatively posed a mysterious working opposition between morality and lustfulness.

Her dripping white paint brought me straight back to my first one-on-ones with the interlocutor, Father Callahan, my Good Shepherd representative in receiving the Sacrament of Penance. Needless to say in my confession being so young I lied, forgive me Father. I failed to express the real sins on hand, which were really just the healthy (maybe obsessive) exploration of sexual desire. But instead I beefed up my sins—I fought with my brother and sisters (though I never had)— I talked back to my mother and father (which I never did either)—I also said I took the Lord’s name in vein (which I actually did on occasion but God understood that was just to get a good laugh). In the light sifted of the room I expressed sorrow for committing these venial sins and made it worthwhile for the both of us. I stared through the beautiful basket pattern as a tableau of desire, repression, frustration, guilt, and wonder—always wonder.

In my contemplation, abashed as I stood in the gallery, a glow perhaps pointed me out to the other visitors. What does the whiteness signify? Purity/Open-ness? And Pattern? A Moorish taste for excess in the practice of completely covering surfaces with decorations – a kind of rejection of emptiness. Isn’t that what religion is essential about? I can’t help but think—as I have always thought, how strange the rituals of the catholic faith were for me, how unusual the act of confession was. For some confessing gives one a wonderful sense of freedom and peace from the burden of sin. Sorrow, affliction, and a desire for conversion follow the remorse of sin in those with a contrite heart. Some believe we can confess our sins privately to God. But as a social being, the humbling experience of unburdening your soul to someone, of exposing your weak nature, and then being accepted for who you are and what you have done brings one an incredible sense of relief. Cluley’s exhibition at the Hillyer Art Space is a wonderful thought provoking experience filled with a vastness white brings. Her other works in the gallery are just as engaging. “Seven Mortal Sins” a series of oil and collage paintings on 5×5 paper and “Veiled Devotion” a series of paintings executed on the thickness of 40 glued-together sheets of heavy paper referencing the lonely 40 days and 40 nights of wondering but, more, references time like the rings of a felled tree. Perhaps you too will stay a while and a calm will bring you to introspection where the hottest sins will be remembered, even if you are not catholic—I have certainly not been for years, rejecting all its voiceful repeat. But I tried real hard to recall an incantation. Do you remember it? I repeated it over and over until I got most of it. Behind Erin Cluley’s layers is a cultural narrative that will resonate with an unveiled lightness.

by Asper Winktop