Mutating the Mundane
Launch LA, Los Angeles
closed November 21st
Written by Genie Davis
Logical Mutations, is a witty, wonderful, and stingingly potent series of works by Colin Roberts and Elizabeth Folk concluding its run at Launch Gallery. The primarily sculptural images (Folk also exhibits a video) brilliantly subvert both visual and cultural expectations.
Working with the idea of associative recognition in common objects, the artists riff on conventional comprehension, delving into deeper meanings with pointed and often political reimagining of easily identifiable forms. Many are part of a series, and in part because of this, the works are writ larger through repetition of form.
Roberts focuses on a humorous juxtaposition of materials and images that encourage the viewer to rethink the way in which one perceives the world. Whether it is minute men working away on giant earth-mother breasts, or translucent and gorgeous glass pillows, texture and medium play a key role. He encourages the viewer to rethink every-day objects and our personal connection to them; he also reconceptualizes our view of his mediums.
Roberts’ “Gumwad Bust” gives viewers a conventional sculptural form that appears to have been shaped from brightly colored, chewed pieces of gum. But the artist subverts expectations in two ways: the material looks like gum but is actually resin and plaster imitating it; and the piece follows a conventional form but is a blurred approximation with no detailed features.
Similarly, the artist’s “Holograph Pillow” subverts by taking what is commonly viewed as an entirely opaque object, a pillow, and making it translucent, and taking a form that is normally soft, and rendering it hard. It is also a riddle in terms of material used – it is not a holograph at all, although at first look it certainly resembles one, but is shaped of plexiglass and glue, evoking even in its hardness, a well-slept-on pillow scrunched in the corner of an invisible bed. In short, it’s a hologram of the mind.
Likewise, his “Flesh Bubblewrap Pillow” is not an oddly discomfiting shade of bubble wrap, or something macabre made of flesh, it’s resin and plaster. And again, he takes an object that is usually one way and renders it the opposite of the expected: here, opaque.
Then there are “Tiny Men on Tits,” a series of multiple small works made from resin, clay, and paint, that depict men accomplishing tasks positioned on the fertile and fecund “ground” of a large breast.
Roberts’ “Bronze Banana Peel” is just that, there is no subversion in expected material. Viewed in a state of partial-consumption and positioned upside down, the peeled section of the titular banana is spread at the base like flower petals, with a result that is both phallic and floral. The viewer is encouraged to see the banana in an entirely new light.
Folk’s work follows a different sort of visual roadmap, but she also toys with viewer expectations. Using sleek materials that are unexpectedly and surreally contrasted with rough aesthetic surprises – hair, candle wick, barnacles – she also unearths and overturns far more than artistic expectations. Her exploration of the privilege and whiteness inherent in the power structure of America, and the role of women in domestic life is rich with upheaval. She also references environmental change and decay using materials from the Salton Sea as emblematic of the decaying myth of the American Dream.
“Reborn” uses the silicone common to her work here, a type used in the repair and creation of dolls. The piece also includes a mid-century end-table, and fronds of human and alpaca hair. The hair resembles a plant, something regenerating from within or taking over the classic end-table design.
Similarly, her series of sconce/candelabra-like pieces utilize the smoothness of silicone and the formidable smooth heaviness of brass, as well as including an imperfect wick and tufts of human hair. Each of the pieces in this series are personalized with a human name. The viewer comes to believe that they represent a Patricia, or perhaps a John, with straight blonde hair.
My favorite of Folk’s works, however are the three that evoke the Salton Sea, a location incongruously beautiful in the middle of a desert, equally incongruously twinned with the decay and loss of crumpled buildings and dying fish.
Each piece uses a perfectly item of dollhouse furniture – a chair, a cook top, a portion of a bed – made of brass. They also contain music box components, and multiple barnacles. Folk’s “Dance with Me at the Salton Sea” series references a new song title for each sculpture, “My Funny Valentine,” “Unchained Melody,” “Are You Lonely Tonight,” well-known melodies that each seem as haunting as they are iconic.
Then there are Folk’s beautiful doll-furnishing sculptures, such as her “Dresser,” bronze with cupric nitrate and a patina of menstrual blood. There is a diminutive like-crafted refrigerator, representative as perhaps no other object is in the home, of a woman’s role in stocking it, and in cooking food stored inside it. With both these objects, the female is the “life blood” that helps shape their significance.
Linking art with social and political ideology, Folk and Roberts both take on cultural and personal identity, and move from a domesticized orbit outward, commenting on our roles in a wider political, environmental, and spiritual world. They lead us with grace, humor, and poignancy through these times of great change and great mutation.
170 South La Brea Ave, Los Angeles, 90036