Site Specific: Diana Cooper and Lee Boroson at Fordham
Prismatic Shifts: Lee Boroson & Diana Cooper at the Ildiko Butler Gallery, Fordham University at Lincoln Center
February 22 to March 31, 2017
113 West 60th Street at Columbus Avenue
Carleen Sheehan has curated a small but intriguing exhibition at Fordham that brings out new ideas from two fearlessly inventive artists, Diana Cooper and Lee Boroson, each better known for large installations. Cooper’s relentless assemblage practice, a thoroughly original kind of 3-D doodling that began with large felt-tip drawings but grew to encompass sculpture and photography, has been colonizing walls and floors since the mid-1990s. Here she shows a barely contained wall piece and projects a fascinating site-specific video, her first work in that medium. Boroson’s installations have often included enormous pneumatic elements that encroach from the ceiling. He outdid himself with a breathtaking installation in 2014 at Mass MoCA, Plastic Fantastic, which filled a football field-sized gallery with symbolic, alchemical transmutations of industrial materials back into base elements –– air, water, fire, and earth. For Prismatic Shifts he works comparatively fast, cheap, and out of control –– and small! –– but with the same drive to reclaim synthetic matter for nature, through organic metaphor.
It can work the other way around too. The maple twigs in Boroson’s Ruderal Object (all works 2017) are cut at zig-zag angles and reattached into bebop rhythms. A ruderal plant is one growing in wasteland; the breezy way the vivisected twigs are balanced on a slight steel armature, interspersed with mirrored disks and colorful foam-core placards, transforms forgotten weeds and studio leftovers, as it seems, into music. His Clear Cut also makes use of tree parts, with a forest of cut logs supporting an undulating tabletop. Here, though, Boroson digs into sculptural mass and patient construction. The curvy top element, extruded with accordion folds of paper like an automobile air filter, gives off a Roberto Burle Marx vibe, with tropical color provided by a collage of circles made from notion-shop ribbons, sliced into small angled sections and joined polygonally. The overlapping circles of vivid color standing out on the clean white table top recall tree growth rings, rain drops in a pond, and synesthetic Arthur Dove foghorns. Their psychedelic quality makes one also want to imagine them as beautiful drink stains from the aftermath of a party.
Cooper’s Undercover, a reworking of a wall piece first shown in 2010, serves as a sampling of her goofy constructivism, and of her color-coordinated palette of diverse materials –– most of them, as with Boroson, synthetic, including foils, gels and plastics; grids, dowels and corrugations; fasteners and tapes; and, as always, ink. Amid the dense, primarily black and white complex of layered silhouettes and graphic filigrees, a small photograph of a glass door recurs. Beyond the door is a curving pedestrian bridge, conceivably a campus-scape from the original installation site. A discreet black belt bars the way, however, and the phrase “Emergency Exit, Alarm Will Sound” is superimposed on the glass. She has shown increasing interest in institutional architecture and surveillance, simultaneously as critical subject matter and raw object matter. Here, the dysfunction of the glass doors, proffering escape while denying access, mirrors Cooper’s enigmatic, possibly absurd attempts to possess space through transparent films and overlapping framings. A sort of coda, detached to the right of the main body of Undercover, thrusts a kludged-together, “off the wall” extension arm forward holding a translucent version of the photo, as if the image were appearing on a security monitor.
The show is strongest where the artists respond to the site. For Breach, Boroson uses a high window in the gallery to hang sewn strips of velvet, a cascading coat of many colors, which spreads onto the floor like a waterfall. Boroson has re-imagined cascades of water in a number of impressive fabric works, but all of them have been monochrome. In the Bible, Joseph’s coat was torn, drenched in goat’s blood and shown to Jacob as proof that the favorite son had been killed by wild beasts. The more pertinent Bible myth put in play by Boroson’s hand-made elementalism is, of course, the Flood. Still, blood and betrayal can be read into Breach’s implicit warning about climate change, with the gallery’s high window resembling a basement vent from which nature’s spectacular wrath pours down, as if from rising seas.
As noted, Cooper’s untitled 9-minute video (2016-17) is the artist’s first work in that medium. It is so successful that one wonders what was holding her back. Using footage of an escalator bank across the lobby as raw material, much as she uses plastic gridding or multiple snapshots, she creates mesmerizing patterns through division and multiplication. Foreshortened close-ups of the meshing treads, repeated in mirror image again and again, produce uncanny spatial folds and faults across the visual field.
One minute, two conflicting shots share the screen; the next, a hundred video boxes of the same shot make a collage of grids. Just when a pattern achieves a kind of Rodchenko-like clarity or Jeremy Blake-like drama, however –– that is, when we forget about the escalator and see only abstract forms in motion –– Cooper changes things up, unhinging obvious symmetries and bringing us back to the curious facts of institutional architecture and artistic impulse. You can see the escalators through the gallery’s glass doors, and you can hear their lonesome mechanical breath. The sound track of the video is the site itself.