Because relationships involve crossing a given or implied space toward an other, they are necessarily about action. It would therefore seem natural, given this spatial process, that words, integral to relationships, may also be the basis for sculptural inquiry.
Read reality. Not a command.
The problem foremost is moving from the world of words to the three-dimensional object that relays the concept. Theory floats about the ethereal world so as to not be identifiable as an object, let alone find a consensus of what it consists; yet it occasionally touches down as metaphor, leaving a trace (more metaphor), a remainder poetic or fictive, real and determined to this degree. The initial task then is to work the linguistic into a phenomena/object-oriented display that will find models for the words. Or shall we find that words are not better models left for themselves?
Open sphere of specific issues.
The examination of an attempt at such modeling is where we come to the work of two artists, O.F. Toinby and another listed simply as “The Kid”, who were uninvited participants on the back porch of the apartment below the recent independent show, “XOXOXO.”
The heretofore unknown sculptor, Toinby, presented four pieces designed to give us a careful, albeit diagrammatic rendering of prepositions: words which readily suggest spatial arrangements. Fittingly, he labeled this installation “by below.” All four sculpture combine pairs of an older variety of wood office chairs confined within open-slatted shipping crates. In short, the titles for these pieces are keyed from the various spatial relations that are set up by the proximity of the chairs to one another and the manner in which they are restricted by the crates.
In one piece, "in by in", Toinby has quite simply set two chairs side by side, inside a large crate. This piece, in light of the others, is a primer, simplistic but not altogether unnecessary. It establishes a premise. Another piece, "in on over under above", has the chairs nestled together seat-to-seat, head-to-toe and tightly packed in a crate set on four table legs. The chairs suggest embracing, perhaps lovemaking, elevated as if on a bed yet in a prison, unable to move, "laid up".
Love gone wrong? A relationship they cannot get out of?
A dynamic has been established that continues in "in by out", a piece in which the chairs are placed head-to-head so that their legs stick out opposite ends of a long narrow crate. The chairs seem to be trying to escape, perhaps at loggerheads. Here, violence continues to be inherent to confinement. Free will is constrained, hopes battened.
Literature is full of illusions to confinement: prison. Full. History's consistency.
In each of the three pieces above, we have the confined, the confinement but no confiner, less the chairs will themselves to be confined. The final piece, "in by out II", the most dramatic of the four, suggests and invites us to imagine the act of imprisonment. One chair is completely confined, the other is facing the other, confined only around its front legs. Either the confined chair is trying to bring or keep the other in, or else the crate has enticed another victim.
The company we keep.
Pain needing its voyeur is a rather romantic notion brought to Toinby's otherwise formal demonstration. What if we were to follow a logical conclusion to a fifth piece placing both chairs outside of a crate? We'll call it "around by" and open up the realm to make communication possible. The titles, as listed prepositions, make this clear and at the same time complex. These works are, after all, about relationships of space as much as they are about confinement. It is for this same reason we have two chairs instead of one in a relation with the container.
One may object to a simple reading of the chairs as representative of people. There is nothing inherently special about art with people as an object, even when that art has no figuration to suggest people. There is, however, something special about relationships and their situational multiplicity, making for an abundance of dynamic artistic possibilities that immediately move away from the cliché.
Left with this and in light of never actually meeting Toinby, it may be that this artist is to be credited with his use of prepositions in the titles: those words that position us in relation to others spatially, but also subtextually into a hierarchy. This deep of an understanding of relationships he may have, which in turn should encourage us to discover what issues or concepts are explored in and by the show with the hope that somehow the work speaks to our own relationships.
Follow me by me and get on with it.
The work of the other artist in the show, The Kid, is simply ambiguous, as is his name. Start with the centerpiece: a cheap black frame lying in the middle of the porch with typed paper in it. Because the text in this frame is so short but enigmatic, it can and perhaps should be transcribed into the scope of this review:
There is somewhere a fleeting pageless diagram of
relationships in a series: E & V, K & P (let them
think what they may), B & C (not to feel left out),
whoever I can stand the sight of this week
and all their little pushes and pulls, nips and
tucks, trips and tugs.
What sculptural implications are to be found? This piece has a conceptual feel, although the rest of the Kid's work does not. Yet, as the framed piece on the floor, three other pieces, two mounted and one on a pedestal, hover between enigma and statement, as cryptics (in)tend.
It seems that The Kid's text centerpiece is about individuals, paired into what are most likely couples. Of course, we have no idea who these people are and how they relate to each other. The artist evidently does, yet because of the highly enigmatic nature of his invitation, his work gets off to a weak start.
There is a small, vertical wall-mounted piece that consists of a rolled-out condom laying over, yet impaled by splinters in a nine-inch cylinder of rough-hewn pine. (The artist has resisted pulling the condom over the wood.) The tip of the condom has a face drawn on it. A small battery-operated fan is nailed to the base of the wood pointing up to the condom causing it to flap and quiver (the name of the piece is "To a Feather"). One could surmise that this piece concerns itself with The Act, or at least an act. "To a Feather" is frenetic. If the fan could, it would blow away the little condom doll, but the piece of wood won't let go.
Another work has a condom stretched over and secured to an old “peg leg” prosthetic. Next to this is a color photo of a man's bare legs up to the knee. The title is "Of Prosthetic." Phallic as hell, combined with the picture of the legs the piece suggests impotency. Yet, why a condom? One can, perhaps must, still fantasize. The `leg is gone but as any amputee will tell you, the phantom sensations from the missing appendage are real enough.
In his final piece, "In the Mood", an open-top box about the size of a vegetable crate sits on a plain white pedestal. Inside the box are eighteen-inch tall adult dolls, one male and one female, naked except for a hat and pair of shoes on the male. Around his neck is a small sign that reads, "I'm rubber, you're glue." The female has on what appears to be heavy face cream. She also has a sign around her neck: "Just because I love you."
Beside the word and image pun, there is a discussion going on between these two dolls — most likely an argument. The male is cast in an immature light, the female in a somewhat reasonable yet pleading tone. Yet what has already passed may be that which is of most importance in that the female's phrase reads like a response to something else said. In short, we haven't been given much of a clue.
There is a feeling of alienation, of dismembered, disembodied or in some general way insufficient or compromised intimacy in all of The Kid's sculptures. With what work there is to contemplate, we must decide that the artist has sexual issues he wishes to address. With such an encompassing, emotionally loaded subject as sex, and the corresponding subjects of sexuality, intimacy and love, the interpretations here can be numerous; although, we may be certain that The Kid sees things in a decidedly negative light.
Finally, taking the study of the above described works and the ensuing assumptions about content another step, I must step back, careful not to confine my inquiries lest they become concrete slabs too close to the East River. Meaning cannot be directed as though words are cadavers to be autopsied or done away with, particularly without the advantage of speaking to the artists. Nevertheless, if we are to create new bodies of work, even texts in relation to or to replace other kinds of work, we must attempt to experience the kind of work an artists does, and thereby lives; for to put forth criticism, if to lay bare the methodological construct, is to expose one’s own conflicted or violent past.