Tara Donovan: New Work
545 West 22nd Street
New York, NY 10011
March 11, 2006 – April 22, 2006
Tara Donovan’s art is phenomenological in the sense that her “site responsive” sculptures reveal the purely subjective aspects of consciousness. The vacillation between illusion and material reality prevalent in her work activates perceptual shifts. So rather than say Donovan’s “Untitled (Plastic Cups),” (2006) doesn’t work because the raw material (plastic cups) isn’t completely transformed or because we have seen this sort of thing before, we should focus on the dissociation that takes place. Tara Donovan’s work creates a dramatic tension between what cognitive neuroscientist Uri Hasson calls “activation induced by local object features and activation induced by holistic, grouping processes that involve the entire object or large parts of it.” Donovan would have prevented viewers from seeing her artworks close up if she wanted to conceal the individual units that comprise the whole. The work currently on display at PaceWildenstein is a complex version of the vase-face illusion. It contains an inherent contradiction in the sense that its physicality immediately inspires neuronal activation that is not dependent upon the physical properties of the visual stimulus. It works because both ends of the spectrum, the material reality of the stacked cups and the illusion of a terrestial or extraterrestrial landscape, absorb our attention.
The surface area taken up by this artwork (approximately 50 by 55 feet) is not perfectly square in circumference. Along two opposing edges of “Untitled” the rows of stacked cups are staggered and along the other two opposing edges they are more or less straight. These rules of construction generate the contingencies the artist seeks. She makes the viewer perceive perpendicular forms as if they were rounded surfaces.
Not unlike the way pixels form shapes and colors on a grid structure or bitmap, Donovan manipulates the x (horizontal) and y (vertical) coordinates on this rectangular grid to generate effects of light and variation of form or what are known as voxels, units of graphic information that define a point in three dimensional space or the z axis. In other words, in carefully plotting the number of cups (pixels) along the horizontal axis of the work (what stacks are placed next to one another), and the vertical axis (the height of each stack of cups), Donovan emphasizes and manipulates the translucency of the material. She did this with “Haze” as well, even though it was placed up against a wall instead of on the floor. As you stare at the shifting outlines of “Untitled” you begin to see “jaggies” or pixilation, the blocky step-like outlines of forms found in primitive computer graphics.
“Untitled” is a topography in the sense that it is a graphic delineation that describes an imaginary place or landscape. It emphasizes relative positions and elevations. Natural and artificial light shine down on “Untitled” and the translucency and opacity of the stacked and single plastic cups is manipulated in order to create nuanced shadows and patches of light or more succinctly a “luminous flux per unit area on an intercepting surface at any given point.” Clusters of cups consisting of gradually sloping stacks and clusters consisting of juxtaposed short and tall stacks reflect and absorb light differently.
The darkest areas in this plastic topography appear where there are clusters of very short stacks or single cups and the brightest areas appear where the tallest stacks are because they are closest to the light sources up above. Even though it was slightly disappointing to be told by the gallery that every cup touching the gallery floor was glued in place, it is amazing that the highest stacks, which were drooping, stayed in place, were held in place by other flaccid stacks. The overwhelming quantity of cups imbues the whole with a poetic fragility or precariousness. The drama of collapse is always lurking in the background. When the viewer stands back to take the entire sculpture in he or she is unable to see to the bottom of any one cup. You can only see to the bottom of a cup if you stand right beside “Untitled” and look directly down and this fragmentation of the act of looking emphasizes the general dissociation of human vision.
Donovan uses anonymous elements of the real to make original otherworldly structures that complicate the relationship between parts and whole and reconfigure our ideas about and memories of utilitarian objects and real and imaginary terrains.