There’s a strange dream at work here. Familiar objects are deconstructed and reconstructed. Spaces once comforting have become incomprehensible. As a result, part II of the School of Art’s MFA thesis exhibition in sculpture is at once titillating and chilling: it’s like that moment caught between wakefulness and sleep. Nothing makes sense — ideas float untethered and unbound — but that suspension between belief and disbelief, real and not-real is as addictive as it is frightening. This exhibit is a must-see.
Part of the exhibit’s lure comes from its clever arrangement. Spanning three floors — one floor above ground, two below — the layout forces the viewer to literally descend into the “subconscious.” Every work the viewer confronts is more bizarre, more illogical than the last, and it’s this slow progression into madness that ultimately makes this exhibit fascinating. Non-sense after non-sense after non-sense could easily grow old, but by offering a journey instead of just a passive experience, the show manages to remain refreshing.
The first two pieces in the show are the most grounded in reality: a kitchen and a living room, still recognizable, although decidedly altered. The “kitchen” itself features a fridge surrounded by an elaborate pyramidal contraption of wood, steel and cables. However, while the sheer size of the construction is impressive, the details of the work are far more engrossing. For example, the fridge — door open — is fully stocked: there’s tortillas, Miracle Whip, grapes, Dasani, cheddar and jars upon jars of unidentified picklings. There would be a certain whimsy here, a certain playfulness — if it weren’t for the iPad cellophane-taped to an adjacent wall, a real-time video feed to another fridge in another kitchen. Whose fridges are these, what kind of people are they, where did they all go?
The “living room,” consisting of mainly a digital projection on a white wall, is perhaps the most suggestive of all the works in the exhibit. The furniture, hallways and floor of the room are all constructed out of naked bodies, superimposed upon each other and blurred together to form what can only be described as a wallpaper of human flesh. It’s disturbing, yes, grotesque, yes — but it’s also mesmerizing. In this unhinged space, the video projection plays out the daily routine of a man, followed by that of a woman — the man plays with his dog, a golden retriever completely unaffected by its malformed surroundings; the woman picks up an apple, eats it delicately one piece at a time. This work manages to walk the fine line between the provocative and the vulgar — a brilliant piece of artistry.
The next work, one level down, is one of the most deceiving pieces featured in the exhibit. At first glance, it’s a park. There are bike railings and jungle gyms and even a bench seat next to a tastefully arranged patch of foliage. However, upon closer inspection, this space is more of a nightmare than a playground. All of the supposedly metal constructions are made of rubber — sticky, the same temperature as skin. In the cushion of the bench seat, the artist has hidden two human hands, perfectly poised to grope unsuspecting passersby. Perhaps the most incomprehensible sculpture in this exhibit is what can only be described as a sex toy for an iPhone, a flaccid tube of rubber with an iPhone wedged in its depths. The main drawback to this work are the televisions on the walls, explaining — in the most bizarre images — how these objects were made, where they might’ve come from, why they might exist. This is the kind of piece that’s better left to speak for itself.
The lowest floor of the exhibit, a wide-open basement with staggering ceilings, seems to be the only space consisting of work by multiple artists. Sculptures are scattered across the floor: in one corner, an office sawed in half, fan still whipping in the still air; in another corner, a black metal sculpture hulking on the ground, obtusely sexual, hilariously sullen. These are the barest bits and pieces of the familiar. This is the last stop in the descent, where things have been destroyed, reduced to their least intelligible state. Yet, despite the fragmentation among these sculptures, it all comes together, anyway: It’s almost cathartic.
The tension built up by the other works in the exhibit — the recurring motifs of flesh and the startling absence of anything human in human spaces — is finally gone. And when the viewer ascends again, it’s with lightness, not weight.