An old broom leans listlessly in an empty corner of a forgotten garage. A piano whose ivory keys are yellowed with age sits out of tune. Fragmented computer motherboards, usurped by handheld gadgets, calculate no more. In their utilitarian forms these disparate objects have virtually nothing in common, but for the seven artists in Material-Object-Form, they are imbued with memories and myths waiting to be uncovered. On view at the Brentwood Arts Exchange through August 12, 2017, the exhibition presents a wide-ranging array of approaches to creating totems, narratives and psychological environments from items most of us would never give a second glance.
While there is no unifying visual force, what unites this group is their belief in the inherent power of the object to tell a story or capture emotions. Not surprisingly, the majority of artists have chosen to work in three dimensions to make use of the materiality of their objects. In many cases, they make no obvious attempts to hide the original shape or function of individual components but rely on the visual impact of those objects, in combination with one another, to drive their narratives forward.
For example, the individual components situated within Annie Farrar’s Still Life with Flowers and Vase—an old doorknob, an empty wine bottle, mardi gras beads—are themselves fairly innocuous. Her positioning of these components might seem chock-a-block, but when examined as a whole becomes a moving meditation on the transitory nature of life. This meditation is underscored by the inclusion of a tiny skull amid the rubble and by the choice of a uniform matte-black surface to cover the sculpture. With no extraneous color pulling the eye to specific points within the work, the eye is forced to consider shapes in relation to one another rather than just simply the objects’ former functions. This concentration on form carries over to her wall-mounted works, including Niche with Flowers and becomes a narrative tool in Barbara, where vertically situated brooms reference a vaguely humanoid form.
Fabiola Yurcisin takes a radically different approach to color in her deceptively simple works Blue/Sky and Yellow/Sun. What at first glance are patterned boxes turn out to be hamster cages with metallic ribbon interwoven into the mesh frames. Gaze inside the structure and a world of pure color and pattern come into being. Here rather than create stories, Yurcisin presents fleeting impressions of the world around us. Like Farrar, she also has a narrative hand up her sleeve in her large-scale Saturated Fish Net. The metallic fishnet glistens on the wall, with a rope leading from its center to a cutout of Mexico on the wall before descending into a simple galvanized-steel bucket. The metallic material is actually a webcam videotape, connoting something perhaps nefarious is in play. In this context, the net represents something more akin to a satellite dish, capturing personal data. Glance in the bucket and your face pops clearly into view, an ominous reminder that our data-driven lives can be quietly monitored from afar.
Zofie Lang’s assemblages take a more introspective bent, touching on cords of deep-seeded memories that lay within us. Chronostalgia represents the passage of time and alludes to the process of aging. Where Farrar focuses on the fleeting nature of life, here Lang’s work focuses instead on the arc of existence, where eggs may come to represent birth and animal bones our eventual passing. Enclosed within a clock case, the sculpture also brings cycles of reincarnation to mind. Her sculpture Dorian represents a specific moment within that cycle when it touches on the impetuous nature of youth. Referencing Oscar Wilde’s story of Dorian Gray, the mannequin’s articulated abs, shimmery peacock feathers and back tattoo recall a time in our lives when the ego reigns supreme.
Katie Dell Kaufman also tackles the human spirit, but rather than the individual, she references the cultural connections which bind us into societies. Works on display here such as Distribution Table feature strong horizontal forms upon which found objects are placed, juxtaposing a delicate balancing act with sturdy—almost rigid—compositions. Kaufman’s assemblages are quiet in their messaging, and while her artistry focuses on that fragile equilibrium, social messages rise to the fore. Distribution Table seems to examine economic systems, with one end of the scale amassing more “goods” than all the others. In contrast, Garden of Want in Times of When suggests something akin to a family portrait with rigid, stern bodies standing tall and proud amidst an inhospitable landscape.
While the other sculptors in the exhibition create objects that exist in relative stasis, Melissa Burley and Eric Celarier embrace a more mechanized approach, suggesting fluid or lifelike movement in their work. Burley’s riffs on abstraction want to burst outside their enclosed, wood frames. With an emphasis on metallic gears, lights and linear forms, her works eschew a steampunk aesthetic balanced by a delicate interplay between components. Most intriguing is Soundboard where multiple layers of parts display a robust muscularity that recalls the optimism of the industrial revolution. Eric Celarier’s work appears more organic than mechanical. His installation Tubus trulia is composed of wall-mounted pieces (subtitled Wasteland Tapestries) along with a larger-scale insectile form hovering just off the floor. The wall-mounted components, created from discarded computer parts, form ersatz maps while a larger-scale animal form threatens to skitter across the gallery. It is not immediately apparent how these two components relate to one another and the labels attached to the sculpture detract from its life-like nature. Still, the motion it intimates is not to be underestimated.
Leda Black is the outlier in the exhibition, not only for her displayed medium (photography) but also her embrace of color. Her series Celestial Bodies features 26 individual images* of ethereal forms that mix living matter (such as vegetation) with possibly inorganic elements to create entirely new sculptural species. Linking the disparate images are their inclusion of circular forms and lush coloration against deep black backgrounds. The dark background not only heightens the color, it takes away all sense of scale: we could be viewing microscopic lifeforms or stars through a telescope. Her title hints towards the latter, but these organisms could also form the building blocks of life.
In the end Material-Object-Form, demonstrates that the usage of found objects within an artwork is limited only by the artist’s imagination. It is interesting to note how the art created with found objects in some ways coincides with artistic idioms and movements often associated with two-dimensional works, including traditional still life, portraiture and abstraction. That said, these works are far from being derivative. Rather, they seek to reinvigorate sculpture as a medium, suggesting lowly objects can be on par with paint in their ability to visualize the myriad of human emotion.
Material-Object-Form is on view through August 12, 2017 at the Brentwood Arts Exchange in Brentwood, MD. For more information, visit their website here.
Banner Image: Leda Black, Celestial Bodies (detail), Digital original ink jet prints
*an earlier edition of this article misstated the number of prints in Leda Black’s Celestial Bodies series and has been updated.