All That's Left

A review of 'Ground Histories' at P.S. 122

Roberto Visani. the spirit is then able to enter the statue which can be transported into the house where it is involved in the daily lives of the living. 2019. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

Ground Histories
curated by Will Corwin is a group exhibition at P.S. 122 that focuses on sculpture — a medium that is one of the most embattled in New York while the city is rapidly redefining available space. These increasing limitations have been roundly criticized, causing artists to flee thereby throwing the city’s cultural legacy into serious doubt. However Ground Histories flourishes within these sharp contradictions and unveils a type of Dekadenz, showing sculptures that insist on finding space to stand within the crowded surface of New York’s overpopulated urban landscape. Throughout the gallery, sculptural installations by Will Corwin, Ala Dehghan, David Goodman, Heidi Lau, Kris Rac and Roberto Visani call attention to the mundane through a deep focus on tactile forms and connect the objects of their thoughts to a larger meditation on the role of mythology during this era of drastic, high-speed change.

In the past, historians have noticed that extant societies had once maintained a highly prolific culture before meeting an unforeseen end. Pompeii, for instance, had been buried almost immediately by the overflows of volcanic explosion. The legacy of the city has resurfaced through the traces that were left behind in the form of murals, pottery, furniture and volcanic casts of human forms. Ground Histories opens an inquiry into the use of terrestrial myths as a means to establish an immediate context as time moves toward an unknown future. Since mythological narratives are still used to create meaning, and therefore memory, Ground Histories highlights the drive that underscores productive, cultural output.

David Goodman. Departures/Bed/Castle (1999-2019) and Departure(1999-2015). Courtesy of P.S. 122.

David Goodman’s Departures/Bed/Castle (1999–2019) appears near the front door with an adjoining piece titled Departure (1999–2015), much smaller in scale. The earlier piece, Departures/Bed/Castle, first appears as a platform for shreds of paper that are smoothed together across a canvas-framed surface. Goodman inverts the notion of painting as an object and makes it part of a free-standing structure that could be interpreted either as a bed, due to its angle from the floor, or as a place to find refuge, due to the open space that appears between the sculpture and the floor. Goodman’s descriptive title suggests different associations, but it remains unusable beyond being an object of observation. Not far away, Departure hangs on the eastern wall of the gallery and appears to be a small sketch of this larger idea, that frames nothing except finely-cut scraps of paper.

Heidi Lau. The Gate and its Keeper. 2016. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

The Gate and its Keeper
(2016) by Heidi Lau is an installation of ceramic sculptures that suggest the remnants of decay. The built-up arch rests upon a light blue square, and looks like an extracted fragment of coral reef that hovers over slender, snake-like forms. Each ophidian also has a human hand for a tail fin that throws this piece into a place of uncertainty — not quite earthly, but not very far below the surface of water either.

William Corwin. Jaw (2019) in foreground and Teeth (2019)in background. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

(2019) by Will Corwin picks up where Lau left off. By adopting the appearance of a sarcophagus, Jaw expands and multiplies large-scale forms of teeth that initially look like ossified figurines. The suggestion of a weathered narrative freeze initially captures one’s attention as any object of antiquity would. However when looking at it more closely, Corwin’s abstract shapes are clearly part of something larger. Teeth (2019) is a smaller work, stacked against the wall, and resonates a small part of the larger form.

Within the gallery’s main corridor, Kris Rac and Roberto Visani present a total of three works, consisting of small, hand-held objects that seem to be the equivalent scale of prayer figurines. Each piece appears as a small installation, suggestive of a personal shrine. Rac’s In Between — A Void (2019) for instance, is a wood panel that is painted light blue on one portion of the surface, and then dark green on the other. A built-up layer of calk, painted brown, takes the shape of a gravestone, bearing the inscription “A VOID” - that appears below the representation of a skull, wings and an hour glass.

On the wall next to this work, Rac also presents Body Memorial (My Brother’s Keeper)(2019) that bears a similar presentation on wood. However the appearance of green astroturf as a background, suggests that the viewer is looking down at a grave rather than horizontal, from afar. Visani’s series of three small statues titled the spirit is then able to enter the statue which can be transported into the house where it is involved in the daily lives of the living (2019) looks like a maquette for Visani’s larger piece of the same name that appears in the following room.

Ala Dehghan. under the branches of her artificial apple tree, she sings artificial songs. 2019. Extrerior view. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

Within the West Gallery, Ala Dehghan’s interactive installation titled under the branches of her artificial apple tree, she sings artificial songs (2019) dominates the second room. A bright video, showing fish and underwater sea life, can be seen outside from the street at night and inside during the day. The vibrant colors are suddenly interrupted by a black web, that appears as a dress when seen from the gallery’s interior. Inside, this fabric extends into a dismantled vest, skirt, tie and belt that is framed by large, dark panels of textiles which serve as an outline for the serene underwater scene. Dehghan’s installation continues to grow as extensions of soil reach across the gallery floor, in the shape of a maze, followed by two stuffed animals that appear at the end of each flower-dotted trail as small flashlights shine back upon them.

Ala Dehghan. under the branches of her artificial apple tree, she sings artificial songs. 2019. Interior view. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

None of these details appear to pull a single, common narrative together. However when speaking to the artist, this temporary installation is a reflection on her own biography, as a culmination of thoughts about her mother, her sister and herself. Dehghan offsets this deeply personal narrative with extremely familiar materials thereby giving viewers an entry to her work. Despite leaving this concept open to provide starkly different meanings, Ala Dehghan conveys the close connection that lies between self-perception and one’s personal belief system.

Kris Rac. Teen Bedroom (an ongoing series of material field poems). 2019. Courtesy of P.S. 122.

Ground Histories concludes with Kris Rac’s Teen Bedroom (an ongoing series of material field poems) (2019) where four installations are arranged as graveside memorials, replete with astroturf to suggest the setting of a cemetery lawn . Littered with found objects such as candles, bottles, stuffed animals, and various ephemera, Rac portrays the vestige of cushioned grief. Moreover each head stone bears one word: insignificantoriginalambivalentand satisfaction.

Due to the isolation of the Internet, the role of meaning has been thrown into question. Although the post-industrial era has embraced the Nietzschean concept, god is dead, personal narratives remain very much in use, and serve as the construct for rememberance. Mythologies sustain them well, utilizing images and narratives to trigger thoughts, recollections and associations. Ground Histories features work that is inspired by the terrestrial, rather than celestial. These objects come from a process where the artists are channeling narrative while exploring highly tactile and raw forms. The sculptures on view relate directly to the surrounding environment, requiring observers to contextualize themselves within the landscape that we find ourselves in.

Jill Conner, New York

Ground Histories curated by Will Corwin is on view from July 19th to August 25th at PS 122in the East Village, located at 150 1st Avenue.

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