To visit Good Enough is to visit a home, quite literally. Located in the unfinished basement of the home of artist Steffen Sornpao and Jordan Spurlin, Good Enough exists somewhere between a friend’s chill house party and the best of Atlanta’s DIY scene. [Read our interview with Sornpao here.] To visit Kira Scerbin’s current exhibition “From the Potato: The Little Wild Friends of the Underground Chalet” is also to visit a home, except this one is populated with small, otherwordly beings who have made the subterranean space their own.
The Chicago-based Scerbin creates figures that initially appear welcoming. In the crawlspace closest to the stairs, Messenger of the potato, a small sculpture made of wax, stick, and oil paint, strikes a pose with its legs casually crossed and one arm in the air to beckon the viewer forward. The space is small, but Scerbin manages to fit in nineteen figures, tucked into corners hung onto ceiling pipes, and perched on equipment. The unframed cloth painting Terigeni, deeply reminiscent of the Shroud of Turin, hangs from an overhead pipe. Some figures, like Blue Beard after the eclipse, stand front and center, as if they’re simply checking out the exhibition with everyone else.
Though small in stature, many of the figures are incredibly expressive. Some seem pleasantly surprised by our presence, as evidenced by the slight smiles on the faces of The man that lives in my tummy and the minuscule and easily overlooked Love her. Others seem perhaps less excited by our intrusion—Thine, suspended in midair and brightly lit, is not at all easy to overlook, confronting the viewer with an intense stare and an ambiguous look on its face. The sense of intrusion, the feeling that these are the intelligent beings and we are nothing more than blundering oafs, increases when, inevitably, figures were frequently knocked out of place and even broken by visitors on opening night.
Scerbin’s choice of materials — she combines contradictory materials, such as oil paint on Play-Doh (the audacity!)— is one of the most intriguing elements about “From the Potato.” The figures appear old, as though they’ve been in the basement for decades. Of course, by using oil paint on materials like wax and twigs, it would be impossible for the figures to last long. That much is obvious, and yet, it’s hard to shake the feeling that these little creatures have seen a lot. Especially in the half-light of the crawlspace, barely visible figures like the enigmatic Green boy, bulky with cement, fabric and oil paint, have a mysterious quality. They know something. The artist statement furthers the fantasy by tapping into language often associated with folk tales or old nursery rhymes, suggesting that perhaps these bizarre, bemusing figures are simply manifestations of our inner child.
The exhibition tiptoes close to creepy (just imagine unexpectedly finding Terror Sweetie or Thine in your basement), but Scerbin keeps it playful by providing the viewer with a kind of treasure map of where to find everyone, contradicting the intrusion narrative and adding a layer of complexity to the relationship between figure and visitor. The viewer perspective slips back and forth between the observer and the observed. The childlike figures and folk-tale vibe create a sweet, off-kilter sense of nostalgia. The materials are implausible, even absurd, and yet there they are. Like her figures, Scerbin is on to something.
“From the Potato: The Little Wild Friends of the Underground Chalet” is on view at Good Enough through September 15.
E.C. Flamming is an Atlanta-based writer. She has been published in ART PAPERS, Paste, and The Peel Literature & Arts Review.