Imagine the Rosetta Stone. Now imagine it slathered in paint, sliced and diced, cut up and rearranged, layered with multiple visual, textual and photographic elements, and presented as diptych or triptych. Now you're in Sarah Krepp territory—it's a place where languages collide, where we totter on the brink of instability, where the edges of chaos brush up against our minds, where we try to process more information than we seem likely to absorb. But be patient, as our ancestors were with the Rosetta Stone—Sarah Krepp will eventually give up her secrets too, and provide a good deal of pictorial pleasure along the way. Ah, that pleasure—even if you pay no attention to the snippets of text embedded within her work, the parallel and desperate information layered inside like so much persistent ideated sedimentation, Krepp's work is always visually compelling. She has an instinct for the raw and was mixed-media and interdisciplinary before they were cool, and as efforts in an abstraction of painterly jammed visual incident, Krepp has always been completely in command.
But we want meaning, more meaning, and Krepp's work seems most centered on the fissure between our desire for the stability of content and the ambiguities within the language systems that must try to communicate it. Take, for example, her recent diptych White noise: Red (Read) Silence. To note that it contains the Braille alphabet, elements from an eye chart, signs, numeral, weather symbols, little scrolls taken from the dictionary, and much more does more than identify Krepp as some text-maniac. She shuffles these systems of communication in and out of one another with great assiduity, keeping them aloft, sometimes literally stitching them together. It is completely like Krepp that the flattest bit of this painting is her Braille text, there fore making it invisible to almost all who have sight as well as to those who do not. The two halves of this diptych roughly mirror one another, not slavishly, but just enough to stat a conversation going between them.
And that's the rub. Krepp's challenge is that she completely understands both the impossibility and the inevitability of language, that she is fascinated by what she instinctively mistrusts, that the only way to challenge text is with more text. Imagery gives her a respite—but does it? Sea/Saw, a multi-pieced installation, conflates images of the sea (this is Krepp's most aqueous exhibition, the metaphor of the sea— and it's pun with vision—is much on her mind, perhaps some gesture toward a primal site that exists beyond language) with things such as medical definition s of eye diseases, a cataract meeting a cataract. But puns are not what this is about; instead one senses a kind of awe in Krepp's immersions into language systems, that she is attracted to the communicative power of what she simultaneously fears and seeks to expose. It's a heady game, a tenuous balancing act, and Krepp's work begins to imply that the Rosetta Stone actually doesn't exist at all.
James Yood: catalogue essay, 2005