by David M. Roth
Whether splayed across the exteriors of buildings or sprawled parasitically across gallery floors and walls, the site-specific installations of Philadelphia-based sculptor Crystal Wagner carry a lot of associations, evoking everything from aquatic plants and tropical foliage to Indonesian masks and Chinese Dragon costumes. To create these displays, she works intuitively in response to the available space, filling it with chicken-wire armatures stuffed with wildly colored tablecloths.
In this exhibition, titled Axiom, Wagner achieves similar effects, but at vastly smaller scale, with wall-mounted sculptures made of cut paper set on round bases, the largest of which measures about 3 feet in the longest dimension. The component pieces — precisely sliced and affixed to sub-surface support structures — appear as “wings,” “tendrils,” “beaks,” spires, arches and honeycombs out of which you half-expect tube worms to emerge. Yet for all the biomorphic references, the persistent feel is of Disneyesque artifice. Call it Pop Surrealist origami.
Wagner is an Exacto knife savant. But what she does with that ability transcends mere craft. In the nine works on view, shapes spin out as if thrown from a centrifuge, suggesting time-lapse captures of geologic or cosmic events, rendered as kaleidoscopically unfolding patterns. Some appear in candy cane colors (Arqus, Fluo); others (Lux Tennebris) in grayscale, all in smooth gradients. Where earlier works in this vein felt constrained by their placement in shallow rectangular vitrines, these feel as if they could multiply rhizomatically.
Such rejections of Euclid have a rich history. Duchamp’s Rotoreliefs (drawings set on “turntables” to effect the illusion of a fourth dimension), László Moholy-Nagy’s photograms and Alexander Calder’s mobiles are just a few examples that spring to mind. Moving closer to the present, one also thinks of Elizabeth Murray’s 3-D prints and of Frank Stella’s dimensional metal works.
Another force behind Wagner’s work is the confusion between the fake and the real so relentlessly propagated by digital media. “The disposable and synthetic nature of consumer culture,” she told an interviewer, makes “artificial and pseudo-experiences the dominant sensory experience…” By emulating the structural vocabulary of nature, Wagner’s art establishes a dialog between the two modes of experience, one that pushes deeper and even more exuberantly into the fourth dimension.
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Crystal Wagner: “Axiom” @ Hashimoto Contemporary through November 24, 2018.
About the author:
David M. Roth is the editor and publisher of Squarecyliinder.