Exhibition view, Torn Gestures, Outpost, Norwich, 2009

Lynn Hynd’s latest works are unsettling post-painterly objects that can’t seem to settle down in any conventional dimension. Over the past century we have seen the humble collage, with its radical cut-n-paste techniques, evolve and shift into video editing, sculpture and architectural design. But collage cannot abandon the flat surface entirely. Recent works by this Glasgow-based artist find resonance from the existential threat posed on the two-dimensional world by a pair of scissors.

In a game of Stone-Paper-Scissors, it’s as if someone has removed the stone from the game, leaving the remaining ill-matched opponents to a showdown. Hynd’s work often composes meandering strips of paper to float freely in corners of real space and drape from walls as if they don’t want to let go. They are reminiscent of Edwin Abbott’s strange Victorian allegory Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by A. Square, 1884, in which a two-dimensional ‘square’ protagonist stumbles upon an inexplicable world of three-dimensional forms. Following his traumatic encounter with ‘Spaceland’, and his failure to communicate the potency of this world to his flat peers, he is a damaged wreck, ‘not the Square he once was’.

Hynd’s exhibition Torn Gestures at Outpost, Norwich, extends these paper-based investigations through a set of flat objects propped like planks against the gallery walls. Entering Outpost’s modest cube-like space, the first thing you notice is the rhythmic pattern of the works: a wall-mounted black and white collage anticipates a set of bronchial, coral-like shapes made of plaster. They are arranged with the pulsing rhythm of jazz-era album design, Jackson Pollock’s ‘Blue Poles’, 1952, or the trilling glyphs of Len Lye’s ‘Kaleidoscope’, 1935. With sheer, flat surfaces, and a depth of only a couple of centimetres, these are something less than sculpture and something more than painting or collage.

Striking too, are the surfaces of these objects, embellished as they are with stark zones of liquid darkness and delicate penumbral areas of hatched, hand drawn markings. Up close, one notices these patterns are printed directly onto the plaster’s surface, a tactile quality not easily reproduced in photographic documentation. There’s a jocularity to this artificiality too, as if we are encountering the tawdry stage trickery of early cinema in the flesh, not filtered by the drama of cinematic projection. The audience has been allowed to go behind the camera, to stick a finger into the gothic shadows of fake Faustian trees, and to rub off the heavy eyeliner from cool-eyed vamps and flappers. It’s only up close you notice the worry lines behind the make-up.

If there’s a flickering ontological uncertainty in Hynd’s work, oscillating between two-and three-dimensions, there’s also a sense of poetic matter-of-factness. Like Hayley Tompkins’ coy ‘Metabuilds’, or a discretely northern European version of Mary Heilmann’s giddy pink-and-black painting, ‘Save The Last Dance for Me’, 1979, Hynd’s work favours the intimacy of material presence over clever conceptual trickery. Such material frankness is rare in an art world that often treats hermeticism and self-referentiality as a mark of intelligence. Like Heilmann and Tompkins, this intimacy is both staged and real, suggesting a theatre of human communication through the interaction of forms.

It’s hard, for instance, not to notice the way the plaster forms touch and nod towards each other like cavorting harlequins. Hynd operates as a painter in a post-painterly world. Bur instead of positing her work immediately after the dissolution of painting, it can be seen as pushing outwards into alien territory. It engages with a history of what might be termed ‘expanded painting’—not necessarily as a critique of the medium, but rather proposing a broadening of its terms. Hynd explains this succinctly when she stated to me ‘the wall is the canvas’.

You wouldn’t know it from Torn Gestures, but until 2005, Hynd’s work was laden with the evocativeness of parlour room decadence. Often using beautifully veneered furniture, such as wardrobes, display cases and dressing table mirrors, the sensation of fin-de-siècle decay seemed to overpower her more tentative material investigations. For instance, ‘A Bound Enchantment’, 2005, is a horizontal wardrobe construction, the surface of which is covered in patches of détourned paper. ‘Gentleman’, 2004, meanwhile, is an elegant display cabinet, lined with intricately patterned wallpaper that the artist has cut and overworked with subtle markings. Since 2006, Hynd has dispensed with such cumbersome supports, explaining ‘the history attached to them was becoming disruptive to the reading [that] I was trying to challenge’.

While Hynd’s works at Outpost resemble the blobby cellular forms of Juan Miró, Henri Matisse, and above all, Hans Arp, this referentiality is an incidental detail. Her practice certainly contains a smattering of modernist references (the collage ‘A Sculpted Moment’, 2007, includes an image of Man Ray’s ‘Kiki with African Mask’, 1926), but her practice neither depends on such connections nor does it make countermoves against such a heritage. Refreshingly, she does not reference modernism in an attempt to comment on it from the moral plateaux of contemporary life. From this standpoint, the haughtiness of hindsight seems both opportunist and bullish.

Perhaps the most helpful historical precedent here is Arp’s ‘Collage with Squares Arranged According to Chance’, 1916-17. Constructed from a series of torn squares dropped at random and glued onto a support, this is a seminal work in anti-egotistic art making, a gesture towards the momentary and haphazard, and a pointed comment against contemporaneous expressionist paintings. Similarly, Hynd’s forms seem patiently unembarrassed by their simple genesis from studio practice. Displayed within the gallery, these object-like images (or image-like objects) are open-ended. Shown as part of her 2007 exhibition with artist Iain Hetherington at Glasgow’s Studio 40, a curved hoop of paper titled ‘A Withdrawn From’, 2007, resembles a question mark. Another work, ‘A family of forms caught between somewhere, this and there’, 2007, consists of an array of cut and torn paper forms scattered like musical notation across a gallery wall. The suggestion, it seems, is that we pick up on the grammatical directions and construct our own experience.

Hynd says that ‘I want the works to activate and punctuate the language of the exhibition’, and speaks of the works as ‘fragments’ and ‘obstacles of vision’. Like a written page peppered randomly with full stops, Hynd’s work suggests a series of surprising stoppages. Sprawling through the gallery space, or poised coyly against architectural elements such as walls and windows, Hynd’s collages and objects harness the uncertainty of the edge—the division between two-and three-dimensions. The concept of ‘the edge’ is the central crux of her art-making: it’s a concept both simple and complex, bridging words and worlds with a barely visible step. Conflating this deferral of meaning with the generative power of language, the artist’s work basks in the pleasurable mystery of simply not knowing.

Colin Perry is a writer based in London
Lynn Hynd, Torn Gestures, Outpost Gallery, 2-21 June