Purity or Pollution: Protection, Plastics and Religion in the Work of Sara Mejia Kriendler
Sara Mejia Kriendler: Duplicates, Dummies & Dolls at CP Projects Space
February 18 to March 3, 2016
132 West 21st Street, 10th floor (between 6th and 7th avenues)
New York, 212 592 2274
All white, all pure, all waste obscured: “Duplicates, Dummies & Dolls” is a show of textured casts, molds, and repurposed materials by Sara Mejia Kriendler, curated by Becky Nahom at CP Projects Space. The venue serves as a site for experimental programming by the School of Visual Arts’ Curatorial Practice students, and typically shows the work of SVA students, including Kriendler, an MFA alumna.
Mother of Pearl (2015) leads viewers into the space. Clumpy striations of plaster cross the surface of the square composition, which seems to incorporate found elements into a thick slab of Hydrocal mounted on the wall. The surface marks read simultaneously as circuitry, rail system, aerial view, and microscopic ground. As the eye traverses this expanse, it lingers at intersections where recognizable elements emerge — a sliver of corrugated cardboard creates an accordion fold there, a crusty circle morphs into a flower here, and a snaking shard of another unidentifiable found material breaks the circuitry there. At last, with enough looking, you see it: hovering somewhere above this ground is a small angel. Delicate and hovering, the figurine is also half-buried in the landscape, physically connected to the Styrofoam board by superficial plaster. With its visual complexity in a white expanse, the piece feels quiet and knowing, deserving of your eye, something you might return to each morning.
Nearby, a curved wall, called Defense Mechanism (2010), claims the floor. At a height of five feet, it feels anthropomorphic. Composed of 330 plaster-cast Mardi gras masks stacked like bricks, the wall seems to gaze outward with vacant eyes. One can peer through them, calling up the sensation of watching while being watched. At first imposing, the wall stands in front of the gallery wall with a gap of nearly a foot, allowing the viewer to access (or at least see) its verso. The masks aim to defend some face behind them, but given this gap they cannot protect what they shield, even en masse; this defense mechanism is a futile, fragile structure.
Turning to face what those 660 eyes would watch, one finds 2014 (2015) a floating white rectangle: a Styrofoam tray with raised segments arranged like beams radiating out from a Venus-like figure at the center. A plate of glass hung before the relief establishes some protective distance between the sculpture and the viewer, but the work’s enticement draws the viewer in. The Venus is an empty space shaped like a small female body, apparently the packaging left over from a doll. Stamped with a code of letters and numbers, she appears mass-produced, but her gently molded curves and fragmented limbs speak the language of Neoclassical sculpture.
Plasticulture (2016), an L-shaped installation on the floor composed of domed humps in groups of four, each covered with plastic bags stamped “THANK YOU.” The plastic clings to the breast-like humps, amalgamated with heat. From the crowning nipple of each breast, rather violently, grows a single palm leaf. This is growth from waste. Plasticulture is a common set of agricultural practices, such as using polyethylene sheeting to protect against weeds. It is here rendered strangely corporeal, as a stifling and painful mechanism aiding technological reproduction.
How might contemporary secular art such as Kriendler’s contain the ritualistic and historical overtones of religion? Kriendler has recycled an answer: commodities are the new religion, stores our centers of worship. Yet here, in this room, we have no commodities, only their remains. The minor fetishes of this contemporary religion are objects receiving the excess of our worship, of our gaze, our attention. They pose as invisible and unnecessary, easily discarded, yet their omnipresent necessity is inescapable. Commodity packaging fills our dumpsters as perhaps the only item more pervasive than the commodities they swaddle. What to do with them?
Our waste haunts us, returning to inflict harm on air, oceans and wilderness. The polymers used in plasticulture can be reused, but of course no recycling eliminates the original negative impacts of production. Molded Venuses and plastered angels serve as a warning: we are defenseless from ourselves.