April 14, 2009

Documenting Impossiblity Through Sculpture

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Yes; I’m Serious, and Don’t Call Me Surely, the thesis show of M.F.A. student Allen Camp ’09, is as funny as its title promises. However, it is equally serious. A selection of three-dimensional works in a limited palette, the show investigates the often-paradoxical relationship between objects and their “idiographic symbols.”
Walking into the Tjaden Gallery, the viewer enters a world of absurd sculptures. It is not that the sculptures themselves are absurd; it is that they make absurd propositions. They represent impossible-to-cast shadows, immovable-looking puddles of spilled liquid and ambiguous combinations of the two. The sculptures are mostly figurative representations with the exception of one: a large wall-mounted wooden piece with protruding angles and inscrutable forms. The figurative pieces share the same visual language, a bubbly cartoon-drawing sensibility with simplified, generic edges. An imprint of a toppled bottle and the outlines of puddles stretch up from the floor — where we would expect to find them — to the height of a table. It is impossible, but so carefully executed that the lowest point of the bottle’s negative print in its pedestal is on the same plane as the puddles’ surfaces. So, you see, it is accurate in its representation of impossibility.
Across the room, the protagonist of a caricature thinks in an abbreviated speech bubble, which irreverently crops words mid-phrase and letters mid-word. A pinpoint on a black canvas projects a questionable black shadow, traced mid-air with thread onto the floor. An ordinary classroom chair’s shadow, on the other hand, consists of a low pile of crushed light bulbs. These pieces are neither discrete nor part of one room-sized sculptural work, but are rather many permutations from a long train of thought. Subject matter, color (almost entirely black and white), and scale emphasize their conceptual similarities. They fulfill the title’s tongue-in-cheek, self-aware humor and segue into the more serious questions the show presents.
The wall-mounted, non-representational sculpture diverges from the rest of the show in scale and aesthetic (it is at least ten feet long and sharp-edged rather than curvy) but it has an undeniable relationship to the others by way of its negative spaces. In particular, it forms a visual pair with a sculpture in the center of the room, in which an upended chair sinks (or floats? Is trapped in? Is placed upon?) a rigid black puddle. Additionally, the wall piece’s very solid-looking form is deceptive. One can actually peer inside its dark interior, the opening to which seems to be an impermeable surface from afar.
The puddle/shadow dichotomy in Yes; I’m Serious serves several purposes. It unifies visually the sculptures. The ambiguous shapes, symbols themselves, question the very nature and meaning of symbols. They demonstrate the possibility of symbols more solid or opaque than the things they represent, and with more literal and conceptual weight. Finally, their generic forms are instant visual triggers that evoke the way the mind treats memories. Any detail-flooded event may become a sparsely — populated memory of disordered signifiers any symbols. The owner of the memory symbols in Camp’s show is the diminutive plastic man at their center. He is the only chromatic piece (pale green) in the show, and his black-and-white thoughts are exposed, projected from his mind for all to see.
Camp’s process is evident in many of his sculptures. Whether something is obviously cast, painted, broken, or arranged, it is a documentation of his musings. This gives the entire show a linear (as opposed to simultaneous) quality, invoking a narrative of conception. The viewer imagines Camp posing a question with one piece and answering it with another, creating and creating until he has found one that is answer and not query.