Two shows offer retreats from the quotidian, acknowledging our desires for alternate worlds. While their methods, materials, and aesthetic couldn’t be more different, Kylie McConnell and Bobby Haulotte’s Really, Apparently at Front/Space and Monica Dixon and Annie Woodfill’s Recreationical Serenetorium at Vulpes Bastille are both immersive spaces suited to viewers projecting their visions and dreams. While the former seems to demand an urgent escape, the latter offers a gentle opportunity for considering the nature of things.
Really, Apparently is interested in play, as stimulated by the façade of color. A giddy brightness fills the space, and guests are invited to play with the neon-colored objects in “Fluctuating Still Life.” Broken neon-painted concrete blocks, plastic loofahs, smiley-faced mugs, rainbow-colored plastic drawers, pieces of plastic and netting, bouncy balls, a yellow plastic buttons that say “BADASS” that issue cliched affirmations when pressed: You create your reality. Do what you love.
Some of the physical objects in the room can be spotted in Haulotte’s paintings: the tennis ball, the plant, the rug. These meta still lifes include other paintings. The striped front windows of F/S mimics the striping in another set of paintings “Window Pair” — like almost everything in the show, aggressively bright and patterned. What could have been a window scene has been so manipulated with color and pattern to not resemble anything in the natural world.
The stated intent of the show is to stimulate playful relationships, to encourage exploration and discovery. But here, to play, one must have the energy of the room ramped up, experiences heightened and highlighted, colors maxed out, everything artificial and removed from context. Here is a painting of a plant modeled from a plastic plant modeled from some real plant, somewhere. Everything is firmly removed from a living counterpart.
The show points to the slipperiness of the meaning around objects, how easily utility can be shucked away, if it were even there in the first place. The show description mentions the ‘curiosities and attachments that we might develop with everyday objects.‘ But the objects in this show are stripped of context. A loofah stuffed in a smiley face coffee mug elicits disorientation, not attachment. This is a scramble away from context, away from attachment, away from responsibility.
In a time of sobering repression, relinquishing attachments in an environment of simulated play affirms the status quo. While Really, Apparently uses mundane objects in a way that strips them of meaning, Recreationical Serenetorium gives found objects new life without forgetting their old one.
Recreationical Serenetorium feels like a meditative space, facilitated by the neutral colors and simple forms–rarely offering explicit signification. As visitors mill around the exhibit, we pass behind and in front of large white lengths of fabric, disappearing and appearing from sight. How does it feel to have a body in space? What does it mean to be in relationship to our surroundings?
The artists work with found materials, removing them from their original context without erasing that context entirely. Their misuse serves to open up possibilities. The arrangement of objects feels adjacent to utility, not quite inhabiting it, but not discarding it either.
Some shapes suggest movement, others stillness. Some fabric hangs from the rafters, lightly moving with the slightest breeze, while others are strung from heavy duty wire attached with bolts: a lot of strength is required to do this simple thing, to hold this fabric still.
While you walk through the sheets, you will notice more and more small details. A patch of white tape on a white wall, here and there. A length of wood hung vertically from the ceiling, attached to one of the exposed wooden rafters above. And while you walk around noticing, the shape of the room changing as you pass in front of and behind sheets, you can hold and squeeze and toss a small bean bag or pillow. This physical token grounds you in the present and connect you with the works around you, making the work feel more accessible and playful.
Visitors may contemplate existence while opting out of exploring the negotiations we face in our lived experiences. The space offers an opportunity to reflect without being confronted or challenged. The only challenging thing, being, if you are the sort of person for whom quiet meditation, reflection, are threatening in themselves.
When contemplating the ways you inhabit space, the ways you interact with your surroundings, the ways in which you are a part of the world, do you run into thoughts that challenge you? How do you meet that challenge? This is a good space in which to grapple, if you are ready to do so.
Near the top of one of the lengths of fabric, hanging high from the rafters above, there is a piece of paper covered in text, illegible at such a distance. I asked the artists what was on the paper, and they declined to share specifics. They are interested in how much contemplation is yielded from this inaccessibility of information–how much people long to know what the right answer is.
For the artists, this exhibit is a collaboration with the viewers: they present objects they find interesting, set a structure, and allow viewers to bring their own experiences into the space.
While both shows invite viewers in to collaborate, engagement looks and feels very different in each space. Though we are able to physically interact with objects in Really, Apparently, the collaboration is surface-level, as the objects feel empty, a brightness belying a lack of depth. At Recreationical Serenetorium, the opportunity to project your own experiences and meanings onto the objects in the room while fondling a soft bean bag permits a more free-flowing dialogue of meaning.
Really, Apparently invites us in to a playpen of mass-produced objects, hypersaturated color, and meta repetitions. It offers us the dregs of consumer capitalism. In the void of utility, we stack objects that simulate our relationship to humor and play atop one another. This layering plays with the removal of the original context and potential of remixing, like memes in a social media feed.
The materials used in Recreationical Serenetorium are more raw–fabrics, wood, stone: they could become anything. The visions of the viewer are free to float through past, present, and future. What spaces can we imagine and create with these building blocks? Here, our visionary fictions are offered raw materials.
In our current cultural moment, as our movements and ideas are increasingly restricted (through privatization, policing and border patrol, diminishing access to arts and education, etc), any space given for reflection and imagination is a boon and a blessing. Taken together, these shows raise the questions: What do we need to dream collaboratively? What objects and materials support us in envisioning future worlds? What possibilities do we allow ourselves to pursue?