Thoughts on Annie Zverina

Images gain power, recognition, and currency as symbols by circulating and becoming visible in a community. Paradoxically, the more an image-symbol circulates throughout this community, the less homogeneous its mode of delivery becomes. Any notion of fidelity to image quality is desecrated as things are manifested onto posters, the sides of buses, mugs, Tshirts, quilts, collages, laptop screens, and an entire universe of obscure juxtapositions and banal objects. Disconnects happen when the mediated manifestation of the symbol becomes as communicative as the symbol itself. Annie Zverina deals with these faceted intersections, identifying powerful symbols and their vernacular manifestations, and inserting her own self-aware constructions back into the power-symbol economy.

    Zverina engages the utter authority and pervasiveness awarded American political symbols by rendering them in modes that commonly connote cheapness, lack, or under-value. Just as important as her constellation of hyper-visible motifs is her vocabulary of fraught, less-than-visible objects and frameworks. Needlepoint has been relegated to the cultural realm of craft, as well as to the gendered realm of domestication; the subsequent connotations of un-skill and un-intellect haunt its history to this day. These realities of meaning antagonize the solemnity of the power symbol. American eagles, flags, and presidents serve as the epitome of intellect, achievement, and timelessness within American cultural ecosystems. The artist thus begins the process of generating a contradiction out of the two frameworks by rendering a power symbol with all the detail and care necessary of a proper needlepoint. More opposition enters the dynamic with the material used to execute the work: finely sliced plastic shopping bags, of the kind so unceremoniously peppered throughout our daily lives that they are considered a nuisance at best, and a grave reminder of our needless waste at worst. The plastic strips are treated as thread and are literally woven into the makeup of the composition. As trash it further contests the power symbol, as well as the tradition of needlepoint itself. Zverina’s utter craft with the material generates additional antagonism as the trash becomes aestheticized to the point of desirability, within the art object.

    Herein lies the subtlety of the work: how does the meaning of a symbol change when combined with its mediation, especially a mediation that is semantically antagonistic towards its message? Zverina uses the term “negation” to describe the intended effect. The sign critiques the symbol, throwing the function of both into limbo. Only by placing contradictions in proximity can one gain a clearer view of the nature of the oppositions. The counteractions the artist creates expand and sprawl beyond mere binaries. Yet by focusing on images of the most visible sort, the artist generates the possibility that the most powerful images are the ones that ultimately hold no control over themselves. They permeate so far and wide, and the manifestations shift so subtly, that the essential reading is never quite agreed upon; indeed, they allow for the possibility of negated versions of themselves to exist. Zverina’s work calls this to the forefront of the viewing experience, and brings far-reaching questions about power, meaning, currency, and value together to a critical point of confrontation.

—Wilmer Wilson, IV