Tucked away on the first floor of PS 122 in the East Village, the exhibition “Ground Histories” brings together the sculptural work of six artists to exist in quiet, indirect conversation.
The pieces, curated by Will Corwin, create a maze that sprawls across the gallery’s two distinct spaces, joined by a sliver of a walkway that borders the reception desk.
“I wanted to utilize the floor space and make it all about sculpture,” said Corwin, whose work is featured in the show alongside Heidi Lau, Ala Dehghan, Kris Rac, David Goodman and Roberto Visani. Though a majority of the sculptures are installed on the floor, smaller wall pieces lace the border of the gallery, drawing the eye up from the ground every so often.
Creating a trio of sculptures, selections from Lau, Corwin and Goodman occupy the east side of the gallery, with pieces from Dehghan, Rac and Visani creating an echo of the triangular formation in the west room.
According to the gallery, the artists each make use of “geological strategies to generate meaning in their practices.” Lau’s work, a compact tableaux of glistening ceramic, demonstrates this use of geologic symbolism through organic forms drawn from traditional Chinese art. Titled “The Gate and Its Keeper,” the sculpture calls to mind a seascape, complete with an incandescent archway and a tangle of glazed snakes that morph into clawed hands. From above, the details of the scene feel distant and delicate, as if any disruption could cause the forms to slither away.
Directly across from Lau’s installation, Corwin’s teeth columns serve as a visual contrast. Built from sand casts, the vertical structures take on an earthen color that emphasizes the archeological tone of the piece. Corwin’s installation features two works: a vertical, wall-mounted tower and a coffee table-sized “jaw,” which is positioned toward the center of the floor. The jaw, built from several identical molds, stacks the teeth one on top of the other — creating a bite that calls to mind ancient pillars.
Goodman is also represented by two pieces. The first work is a small fort that features a roof made from up-cycled, shredded sketches, molded into a flat blanket. The underside of the roof, visible by crouching down or laying within the makeshift room, has a surprise painting, complete with glitter. Pink ribbon (a touch informed by Goodman’s four-year-old daughter), hangs from the wooden support beams. The wall piece also includes repurposed paper, arranged so that a canvas peeks out behind the slender shreds.
Over in the west-facing room, the sculptures of Dehghan, Rac and Visani present a whimsical and mythological take on geography. Visani’s contributions come by way of elongated statues that reference deities. Made from simple materials, including fiberglass, plastic and cardboard, the sculptures fit together like jigsaw puzzles — a quality that comes in part from the algorithmic processes used to generate the forms. The figures are divided into three groups, with the smallest displayed on a shelf and the others standing at opposite corners of the room.
Dehghan and Rac’s respective installations fill the space between Visani’s statues (though a small piece by Rac also hangs near the reception desk). Both works make use of dirt, drawing a literal connection to ground. Placed next to each other, it’s difficult not to make connections between the two, a quality that Corwin describes as the “fun” of laying out a sculpture show.
Rac’s installation is made up of four separate graves, each adorned with candles or other shrine-like items, including photographs, stuffed animals, artificial flowers and liquor bottles. The graves also feature mounds of dirt, tarnished strips of astroturf and notations that read the phrases: “satisfaction,” “ambivalent,” original” and “insignificant.”
The geometric outline of Rac’s grave grouping is mirrored by Dehghan’s labyrinth of dirt, stuffed animals and dying flowers. Dehghan’s piece also features blackout curtains and a dress that hangs in front of a window that is lined with material. The set-up allows for a projection of aquatic life to be seen from the outside of the gallery at night. Positioned diagonally from Rac’s graves, the projection creates a sight-line from the window, past Dehghan’s monumental maze and down to Rac’s funereal spread.
Though each piece stands as a unique work, taken together, the exhibition presents, according to the gallery, a “virtual park of scenic intrusions and extrusions meant to be read as an encyclopedia of stories, personal narratives, historical references and ritual sites rising from the surrounding environment.”
“Ground Histories” is on view at PS122 Gallery through Aug. 25.
Top Image: Installation by Kris Rac. Photo:Tommy Mintz.