Ground Histories at PS122

Installation view of the East room: (right) david Goodman, (mid) Will Crowin, (left) Heidi Lau, photo credit Tommy Mintz

The grouping of mostly floor-bound sculptures in “Ground Histories”, the current group show curated by Will Corwin at PS122 Gallery, not only pulls our attention to the ground, but also makes us aware of what is underneath its surface – archaeological artifacts, graves, excavated memories. In the east room a triangular layout consisting of Will Corwin’s altar-like sculpture, Heidi Lau’s arched-shape ceramic sculpture sprawling, and David Goodman’s forte-like structure, create a sense of both tension and connectivity. Made of plaster and sand, painted with terra cotta and white tempera hues, and tied with rough ropes, Corwin’s “Jaw” is a rectangular free-standing sculpture that draws literally upon teeth and invokes the idea of the archaic – an architectural ruin from an unidentified culture, or an archaeological artifact with an enigmatic ritual significance. The tooth, a pivotal element in both forensics and bioarcheology, can be read in Corwin’s sculptures as a loaded metaphor for what it means to be human.

Standing against the wall, Corwin’s complimentary plaster relief “Teeth” echoes in its verticality a white narrow column that is part of the existing architectural features of the exhibition space. Juxtaposing the fabricated history of Corwin’s recently made sculpture with a remnant column in the recently renovated PS122 building, evokes the impact of time and transformation of a place.

Will Corwin, (front) Jaw, plaster, sand, tempera, rope, 2019 (back wall) Teeth, plaster, sand, 2019

“The Gate and its Keeper,” Heidi Lau’s ceramic sculpture to the left of Corwin’s altar, also links architecture, ritual, and body. It depicts fauna, animals and human parts encapsulated in two structures: a vertical arch glazed in pale pinks and greens, and snake-like hybrid forms glazed in earth tones slithering in front, underneath, and behind the gate. Lau, who is currently representing Macau at the 58th Venice Biennale, mines both on her cultural heritage and on a traditional art process such as ceramic making, to air a lost world of myth and history onto a contemporary surface.

Heidi Lau, The Gate and its Keeper, Ceramic, 2016, photo courtesy Tommy Mintz

“Departures/Bed/Castle” on the right, is David Goodman’s colorful triangular structure where young visitors can crawl in and gaze up to see a painting on the ceiling, a reenacted childhood fantasy by a reminiscent adult. A tinge of nostalgia and an imaginative playfulness with materials keeps Goodman’s installation fresh. Besides indicating that the piece is made of everyday materials such as paper, wood, canvas, and reused textiles, its unusual caption also acknowledges the artist’s daughter who assisted him with the piece, reinforcing the artist’s child-play premise and materializing this castle from an idealized memory fragment into a nuanced slice of life.

In line with Goodman’s use of quotidian material, “Ground History” continues with Roberto Visani’s three small scale sculptures of figures. Made of materials and processes ranging from 3D print and laser cut plastic to plaster and fiberglass, these abstracted figures are placed on a shelf like a group of guides, leading us to another world in the adjacent west room where things go darker, taking us to the underworld. Here, Visani’s larger scale elongated sculptures stand on the floor in two groups, three on one side and four on the other, stationed like gods in a pantheon. These medium sized cardboard figures are both vulnerable and menacing, mechanical and human. In fact, they were created as preparatory for eventual wax and then metal casting, but in this context the exposed traces of their design process – penciled lines, small diagrams, numbers – fill these abstracted figure-forms with unexpected life. Their title, “the spirit is then able to enter the statue which can be transported into the house where it is involved in the daily lives of the living” perhaps says it best.

Kris Rac’s “Teen Bedroom” is an elaborate and poetic installation of four imaginary graves with photographs of teenagers sleeping with guns in bed. While the offerings draw upon documentation of graves in cemeteries all over the world, the tomb forms are based on graves from Arlington cemetery in Washington DC. The artist says she was moved there by the masses of replicated tombstones as an “amorphous field of individuals.” In “Insignificant” for instance, the grave is made of a wooden tablet painted in deep brown, an elongated stripe of synthetic green grass, surrounded by old yellowish pieces of bedsheets. The offerings here combine a used teddy bear and large glass votive candles the artist found by a roadside shrine. An entire life summed up by a single formula. Rac’s graveyard offerings readily associate with ancient funerary sites excavated in Ancient Egypt and elsewhere in the ancient world, which in the context of this show ties beautifully with Corwin’s altar and Lau’s gate in the east room.

Kris Rac, Insignificant, acrylic on grave-shaped wooden tablet, synthetic grass, lavender dipped in acrylic, old bedsheets, used valentine teddy bear, Large glass votive candles found discarded from roadside shrine with donated votive candles, on wooden base. 12x.5×24” grave, base dimensions variable. 2019, photo courtesy Tommy Mintz
Kris Rac, installation view

As if growing organically out of Rac’s graves, Ala Dehgan’s site-specific installation “Under the branches of her artificial apple tree, she sings artificial songs,” takes us unabashedly into the artist’s memory of her own mother. The installation starts on the ground as a geometric pattern taken from a Persian carpet but made of soil, dried flowers and some stuffed animal toys. Then, it soars up with sweeping gestures – black drapes on two sides of the window, colored windowpanes and a suspended dress with a haunting yellow translucent bell bottom, alluding to her mother’s occupation as a fashion designer. Footage of fish at sea is projected as a blurred meditative ambiance during the day, but at night can be seen clearly from the window for passersby outside the gallery.

Partial Installation view, West room,, (front) Roberto Visani, (back) Ala Dehgan, photo courtesy Etty Yaniv

Altogether the sculptures and installations in “Ground Histories” are an engaging ensemble with multifaceted references to geology and archeology – unearthing interconnected cross-cultural visual cues related to myths, rituals, architecture, and most importantly contextualizing our bodies and memories within these narratives. Like musicians conversing through jazz, the six participating sculptors break out into trios, duets, and overall, a lively sextet.

Ala Dehgan projection seen from outside the gallery, photo credit Will Corwin

Ground Histories at PS122 Gallery

Curated by Will Corwin

Artists: Roberto Visani, Kris Rac, Heidi Lau , David Goodman, Ala Dehghan, Will Corwin

The exhibition runs through August 25, 2019

150 First Ave (Entrance on 9th st) , NYC, NY 10009