The following article was originally published in Artforum in March 2020.
Erin Louise Gould’s exhibition “All That I Have” presents three rooms of the artist’s studies of the Kentucky coffeetree, suggesting her affinity for, or perhaps metabolization of, her subject. These poem-like works include found arboreal materials—branches, saplings, leaves, seed husks—as well as their representations in woodblock prints, videos, and sculptures. Yet Gould creates a dynamic slippage between the “real” tree and her interpretations thereof. This is particularly evident in a juxtaposition in the gallery’s light well. In Hold it Together, 2020, a branch hangs precariously from a metal hook on the ceiling. Some of its joints are bound in rope (whether in a gesture of support or constriction is unclear), and it nearly reaches the floor to meet a second sculpture, Oh, to Fall Asunder, 2020. Made from pulped paper, this cast of the branch curls and fragments beneath its natural counterpart like shed bark; Gould suggests that understanding a form requires digesting it.
In a wall-length arrangement, a central video projection, Coming Apart, 2019, depicts the artist shelling coffeetree seed husks, and is flanked by built-in shelves displaying samples. On the left-hand side, eighteen pods are arranged in rows of three. At first, these look unmodified. But cracks on the husks appear to have been gilded in wabi-sabi fashion. This simple intervention calls attention to the unique character of each husk. Shelves on the right-hand side feature more seed carriers reproduced in alternate materials, including human hair, rawhide, and metal. A few vials of extracted pulp share the space.
Across the show, Gould demonstrates an intimacy with her subject. Her process of consumption and reinterpretation appears comprehensive—if measured by time spent studying the tree and its remains—but raises an important question about artistic engagement: Is sympathy reliant on methods of extraction?