Spanning two decades of output, “Down and Dirty” at UGA Dodd’s Lupin Gallery converges the practices of New York-based artists Bonnie Rychlak and Jeanne Silverthorne. Both born in the midcentury, when coming up as female sculptors was against the odds of the male dominated scene, their union is premised on their shared commitments to their respective materials- wax for Rychlak, rubber for Silverthorne – and their parallel jabs at the monumental. The entryway to the gallery yields the artists recent and only collaborative piece: 2018’s Grate for Unintended Consequences, a patchily pigmented industrial drain, eerily off-kilter with its waxy sheen, sits directly on the floor as a solid black plastic pipe erects upright, a series of cartoonish silicon drips dangling out of the pipe’s open orifice.
Though this show was organized well before the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and indeed, postponed accordingly like many others, it felt timely that the themes of porosity and banality – the banality of porosity, the porosity of banality – would coincide with the conditions of quarantine and bodily awareness brought forth en masse by the current global viral pandemic. Rychlak and Silverthorne’s collaborative piece best exemplifies their related approaches to articulating how bodies and built environments are co-constituted. Diverging from Robert Gober’s oeuvre with similar themes, for Rychlak and Silverthorne, the punctuation occurs when the exaggerated, colorful, and cartoonish blends with the uncannily familiar and structural.
Reoccurring for Rychlak is an exploration of drainage and the sculptural potential of low relief surfaces to activate the biomorphic architectural registers of a floor. For Silverthorne, casting the actual floor of her studio sets the stage on which insects, patches of grass, and delicate drips penetrate the illusion of architecture’s steadfast barriers. Rychlak’s fleshy plumbing harmoniously synthesize with Silverthorne’s plasticized decay.
Unfortunately, the show suffers from too-much-of-a-good-thing syndrome. In this case, the sheer amount of sculptures packed into the small gallery detracted from what might have been an evocative spacial arrangement, one that could summon the full drama and possible horror one might experience encountering the architectural details of a sparse basement. Likewise, there seemed to be a missed opportunity to incorporate the specifics of this gallery’s architectural details. While the artworks summoned our eyes downward to sculptures of overlooked elements, the actual details of this particular space felt overlooked in the installation. Punchy sculptures lost their vitality packed into corners of unacknowledged outlets and wall jacks from the existing space. The outlets begged to be brought in as characters, as cousins to the drains and cracks and drips that the artists work to elevate.
Given the artists’ preoccupation with issues of ground, underground, and site, I would also have welcomed an engagement with ideas of the subaltern and ground as they relate to Black Study, particularly recent Dodd lecturer Fred Moten’s work with these terms. In a site where the ground itself is never neutral, where this particular institution’s ground is in a process of literally unearthing the brutal truths of its enduring confederate legacy, and as the institution continues to drain its labor force during a global health emergency, risking the porous bodies (lives) of mostly Black and Brown campus essential workers serving an overwhelming white study body for the university’s profits, I yearned for the drains and rolled up floors to dig deeper into their inquiry. It is perhaps unfair to ask this of two Post War New York-based artists presenting a mini survey, but it is also unfair to perpetually offset these hard questions onto those most impacted. If we’re going to get “Down and Dirty” investigating foundations, let’s do it all the way.