There is something very obstinate yet enduring in the work of Taney Roniger. Her recent exhibition “Stones and Ciphers” at Slate Gallery in Brooklyn brings together two bodies of work which share a similar aesthetic interest informed by scientific ideas. They manage a specific aspect of abstraction in which method is equal to madness. How else are we to perceive the finitude which characterizes this work, in which all color is limited to hues of black, white, gray, and sometimes sepia, as if the painting were no more than the printout of some military-industrial computer bank? Roniger doesn’t need words to transmit the values in her paintings. Perhaps because she wants to achieve the status of a document or an artifact--both products of excessive effort and detritus relevant to the passing of time.
We look into these images and we see both information and mystery. It makes perfect sense for an artist to be attracted to matters of abstract reality, yet the degree to which Roniger has extended this interest begs further analysis. Nature at this level offers an amazing clarity and symmetry that no other model can teach. The attraction of artists to elements of design is one aspect of this work. But Roniger is also fascinated by the appearance of scientific printouts, and on the algorithmic procedures which emerge from the systems used to measure random natural events. Despite their serial quality, their streamlined and machinelike structure, the fact that these images exist as the demonstrative subset for a sequence of otherwise unknowable events, they are especially admirable as a form of artistic expression.
Roniger gives her works oblique titles which resound with the respect she has for puzzles, whether logic or theory derived. One vertical work within The Cipher Series is titled Prisoner’s Dilemma and the reference is to a logic game in which two people, each of them accomplices in a crime, both tell exactly the same story, making both of them innocent and canceling out the notion that competition is the primary urge in normal social relations; that we have an instinctive need to protect ourselves. Perhaps Roniger is telling us that even at a molecular level, competition, i.e, the concept of kill or be killed, is not just the law of averages, but is the law in word and name. Matching system for system and obliqueness for obliqueness we cannot fail but we drawn into the web of aesthetic expectations that shrouds these works and keep us from being alienated by the streamlined and transparent quality they so easily evoke.
Of Roniger’s second body of work on view, The Stone Series, the best example was titled Embedded Form #1 which most resembles a hill, or even a mere stone, with its edge torn away to reveal a vein of some other ore, perhaps coal or gold, which reaches from one side to the other like the lines in a person’s hand, giving innate dimension to an otherwise consistent substrata of bubble forms that press together, creating a linkage of tangencies which seem to infer density and content. The less consistent vein interrupting them represents a void instead of an exception, a gesture of something flowing from one unknown origin into an uncertain future.
Each of these works combines structural with esthetic perspectives on a field of endeavor which is essentially abstract only because it exists below the level of an everyday visual commonplace. We cannot sense these images via sight, touch, or smell, and therefore we can only know them as textbook illustrations. What an artifact and a cipher both share is the quality of evidence, which adds to their beauty and also lends them a degree of authority that moves beyond cultural reference, manifesting equally as knowledge and inspiration.