False binaries, doors and windows: Chinati artist in residence Leeza Meksin

MARFA — Leeza Meksin has spent her time as Chinati artist in residence meditating on portals. She’ll open her studio at the Locker Plant from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, so that visitors can see the body of work she has produced over the past two months in Marfa.

Meksin invited The Big Bend Sentinel into her workspace this week to discuss false binaries, false doors and false windows. “I think binaries are attention-grabbing because they’re so black and white,” she said. Still, night doesn’t become day just “like this,” she said, snapping her fingers. And the simplicity that comes with black-and-white thinking comes with a cost, she said: the loss of the in-between.

In the Locker Plant, Meksin had hung sun-bleached neoprene fabric works. They investigate “(the often false) binaries of hard/soft, male/female, public/private,” according to a press release.

Meksin’s love of working with fabric stems from her experience with costume design during college. “There’s a transformational ability when garments and fabric are involved,” she said.  “It’s a transition from hard architecture and soft bodies.”

Meksin leads visitors to her false portals: namely, fabric reimaginings of the Locker Plant’s many doors. She describes her time in the studio as “occupying this concrete, hard space.”

The artist has spent time converting the rectilinear doorways into non-structured objects. She’s grappling with the hard spaces that bodies – soft and curved – often occupy.

It’s true, as Meksin pointed out, that every door in the Locker Plant is different from the next in shape, size, material or design. In the windowless middle room of the studio, where partially completed fabric doors are mid-assembly, Meksin explained the Egyptian concept of false doors, which were often found in tombs.

We use doors to pass through spaces, she said. It only makes sense that Egyptians would use a different type of door for souls to spiritually pass.

Passing into the back space of the studio, visitors quickly confront something of an obsession: Meksin has begun a daily practice of drawing an Egyptian pharaoh.

Hatshepsut — the first woman to claim full power as pharaoh — presents another binary defiance. She wore the male pharaoh’s false beard and regalia, the artist explained — but in depictions of her, of which there are very few, her feminine facial features were preserved.

The lack of depictions of Hatshepsut owes to the female pharaoh’s erasure from history. Her memorial temple was desecrated and rededicated to her successor. Her reliefs were chiseled out of the walls. All of her statues were collected and thrown into the “Hatshepsut hole,” a deep pit only rediscovered in the nineteenth century. Meksin draws the female pharaoh’s face to dynamically recreate her image.

“I feel a lot of rage about how women and non-binary people have been treated,” the artist said. “There’s so much we’re struggling with right now. We could get so much better. We could get so much worse.” Meksin compares current-day struggles to being on the precipice of our own Hatshepsut hole. Things have been damaged, destroyed and erased by binaries.

Like the false doors needed to spiritually pass through, art is a false window for the artist. “I love staring out the window,” she said. “You’re transported by the mere act of looking.”

In the same way, art transports us. “Living with art is like looking out a false window,” she said.