BY BARBARA BOYTON. Posted to Review Magazine on May 27th, 2010.
A collaborative installation by two 2010 Kansas City Art Institute graduates, Christina Dostaler and Matt Jacobs, shows passionate connection to the gallery’s space and the artists’ desire to explore it through a creative process hinged on experimentation. Their installation is a long-conceived project that grew out of a mutual appreciation of each others’ working habits, familiar studio processes, and reciprocal exchange of ideas.Tether is a delightful, idiosyncratic joining of things the artists found discarded or bought at second-hand stores — urethane foam padding, lawn chairs, cushions, nylon netting, ratchet straps, and balls, for example — which are arranged and bound together, drowned in vibrant paint splotches, and suspended high above the heads of viewers by industrial hardware and quick fixes. Creative concepts and methods are visually present, blended to give us a healthy dose of the surreal. Recognizable materials impart a sense of comfort; the overall effect produces an urge to giggle in whimsical discovery and surprise.
Tether relates the artists’ shared fetish for vibrant colors and synthetic materials, formalist sensibilities, and delight in contradictory experiences. The large-scale installation seems to boast a feathery lightness, floating toward the ceiling with ease while grounded by the clumsy, immediate nature of seemingly misapplied hardware. Negative space created by purple wooden arches bolted together, bouncing downward toward an overturned plastic chair completely enveloped in yellow paint, entices the viewer to weave through the installation, where, suddenly, we are treated to details like the tiny C-clamp drowned in pastel pink paint, pinning a peppermint candy between its jaws and dangling millimeters from the concrete floor.
A formalist approach is at the center of the Tether collaboration. The artists exploit found objects for color and texture, line and shape, then look to the elements as their constructions expand into the surrounding space. The inherent qualities of the materials add humor and interest, and the use of these materials offer additional layers of meaning. For example, visual and conceptual paradoxes are caused by the joining of disparate ideas: a camouflaged ratchet strap strangling a soft cushion in a nylon death grip or the suffocation and subsequent elimination of fine details by decadent, hastily applied layers of vibrant latex paint. Other deliberate inclusions of formal qualities are manifest through such means as fluorescent orange nylon straps that secure a black canvas sleeping bag to the gallery’s central I-beam. Rhythmically binding the plushy offender at five places, the straps direct the viewer’s eyes upward to be greeted by a thick, fluffy topping of gathered, bunched, and yellowed foam strips.
Secondary to the concerns of formal, elemental construction, the work is intelligent and able to support an array of social, environmental, or personal interpretations. Among the possible undercurrents are society’s mass production and eventual discarding of synthetic materials, questions of how and why certain items are created (see Jacobs’s use of a large, beer-promoting inflatable football), or the tacit acceptance of our society’s reliance on petroleum-based plastics and on toxic but “necessary” production techniques. Dostaler and Jacobs keep to a lighter side of these suggested disquieting concepts; they cleave to the creative potential in each piece of cultural debris they scavenge, ready to make lemonade from large foam lemons.
As the viewer navigates through this surreal playground, the conglomeration of texture, color, objects, and treatments conjures hints of Minimalism, Abstract Expressionism, and undeniable parallels to the work of Jessica Stockholder, an artist whose devotion to formalism, relationship with architecture, and exploration of space through color resonates so profoundly with Tether.
Dostaler and Jacobs offer individual works, too, found along the east and south walls and partially behind a room divider, which is blank when viewed from the installation side. Examination of these efforts reveals the unique attributes of their joint installation.
Of contrasting moderate scale, Dostaler’s wall-mounted, compact sculptures rely heavily on delicate line values, with tentacles of acrylic paint drippings creeping out from layered, textured centers. The ruffled, twisted, and pleated plastic sheeting, use of acrylic paint, and integration of traditional fiber techniques relate a colorful blend of the organic and synthetic. The process of crafting her materials is tedious: she individually coats strings of monofilament with a mixture of gel-gloss medium and acrylic paint, building layer upon layer of luscious, translucent color; and she paints large sections of thick acrylic paint then peels the sections to reveal varying opacity and swirled color. These techniques allow for an intimacy between artist and work, convey an obsession with the plastic and the sublime, and impart on the viewer a feeling of euphoria, as two-dimensional paint is given transcendent new life in the sculptural realm.
Set on the floor in the corners and on pedestals balanced on fireworks, Jacobs’s assemblage “characters” are forged from found objects, candy, paint, and hardware. Infestations of peppermints plague one plush chair, leading the viewer on a treasure hunt to the underside of the cushion, which offers the reward of only a few more candies; Jacobs smiles as he relates the anticipated disappointment of his audience. Yes, it’s funny. Other characters relate unsettling issues of gender, such as “masculine” objects doused in a thick coat of (“feminine”) magenta paint. Several feet away a vacuum cleaner fights back in voices of pale pink and hot orange, eventually erupting with a rash of lemon drops, this one, entitled, Heel. These sculptures are simultaneously heart-breaking and dismissively humorous, evoking instant guilt and pleasure.
Dostaler’s and Jacobs’s work thus translates well into installation; their use of plastics and color, fibers and found objects, joined with the humor found in the juxtaposition of ideas and misplaced utility, creates an energetic and sophisticated experience. Site-specific and well-balanced, the work calls for more than just a glance.
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