Ever since Robert Rauschenberg built his legendary “combines” from cast-off junk in the ‘50s, sculptors have relied increasingly on street trash, found objects and industrial materials to convey ideas. We’re now witnessing a tidal wave of such activity. But one thing remains constant: Then as now, repurposed materials convey meanings that transcend, explicate and sometimes even parody the associations we normally affix to them.
Mitra Fabian, whose work is on view in a group show of new SCC art instructors, is a good example. Fabian, who in 2007, made a splash at SJICA with a series of sprawling floor installations, uses tape, glue, film and medical supplies to build elaborate objects that address malignancy. The operative term here is horror vacui. Her current series, Open Ended, consists of shallow, wall-mounted boxes crammed with layers of rolled film that double back on themselves in wild, labyrinthine arabesques, calling up associations to brain matter, lava flows and cosmic dust storms. They offer viewers many access points but few exits, save the spots where ribbons of film spill from openings, as if under pressure.
Equally eye-grabbing (and a whole lot more menacing) is a tableaux mort whose title, B-9, refers, I think, to recent findings linking folic acid in processed foods to cancer. This cathedral-like form and its upside-down mirror image rest on a sagging slab of clear plastic suspended by wires from the ceiling. Built from the bullet-shaped plastic laboratory tubes known as pipettes, it evokes the wince-inducing installations of Mathew Barney, stockpiles of ammunition, and, somewhat paradoxically the craggy shapes of Clifford Still. Her work is alluring, claustrophobic and psychologically loaded.
Ceramic sculptor Mark Boguski takes a more organic approach. His clay forms allude to figures and functional objects, but cleverly sidestep specific associations. For Boguski the line between representation and abstraction doesn’t exist. Neither, apparently, does any signature working method other than a predilection for reducing to table-top size forms that could,just as easily exist at a monumental scale if they weren't made of clay. This tension, between his works’ actual size and their exponentially larger ambitions is an animating force. So is Boguski’s conjoining of ideas and forms that don’t fit together in real life. In P. Wiggley, for example, the artist affixes bulbous shapes to a blackened terra cotta pot, making it appear as if malignant growths sprouted from the headpiece of medieval suit of armor. In some ways, Boguski echoes masters like Robert Brady and Peter Voulkos, but he steers clear of that other brand of ceramic art, Funk, and instead aims for understated biomorphic abstraction.
Craft plays a key role in the work of Gioia Fonda. Her Philip Guston-inspired Pile Painting series feels academic; but her P&D-influenced panel paintings — meticulously replicated fabric patterns on wood that appear in provocative geometric shapes — give off a fresh, snapping energy. Emily Wilson’s drypoint intaglio prints, filled with enigmatic imagery, from floating chandeliers to smoke-bellowing rodents, suggest dreamscapes of a sort. What sort is difficult to say.
What’s certain is that next crop of students coming out of Sac City College will have several worthy new role models.
–DAVID M. ROTH
"Summer in the City: Recently Hired Art Faculty and Sacramento City College" @ JAYJAY through August 7, 2010. Guest curated by Anne Gregory, Suzanne Adan and Michael Stevens.
Cover: Detail from Mitra Fabian’s Open Ended series. Photos: David M. Roth