Lauren Clay’s “Nameless Namer” displays models for planned communities built from geometric shapes and arranged paper which form landscapes as if seen through rose-colored glasses of the future. My notes from the show include everything from gumdrops and Muppet Babies to Tim Burton’s depiction of a suburban neighborhood in Edward Scissorhands and English gardens. I suppose it is possible that Clay was drawing from all of these images, but the simplistic palette and shapes that she uses allow her pieces to move forward from these references to create new postmodern environments.
Unshakable Kingdom is the piece that sets the tone for the exhibit, casting a decidedly whimsical “dream house” setting for the gallery. The structure stands no more than a few feet high in a stark white-and-blue palette with scalloped edges. The individual components of the sculpture recall wooden building blocks rather than a developed structure, but when arranged, they create a Jetsons-like cityscape. The largest architectural feature of the piece is a relatively monumental hexagonal dome containing what appears to be a model of the structures below. This notion of communities inside of communities, where some outside force maintains supervision, gives a somewhat subversive Orwellian flare to Clay’s small Utopias.
To the left of the floor sculpture, a nod to more definable architectural elements is mounted as Oh, Those Enlightened Eyes of the Heart, which describes a beheaded lamppost. Here, Clay’s geometric orb is a literal illustration of its use in past design. Draped paper cutouts form a melting candle. By placing the lantern in the context, beside her more abstracted use of these same repeated shapes throughout the exhibit, Clay is able to illustrate what her own structures are departing from.
If Oh, Those Enlightened Eyes of the Heart looks back, then Inverted Continuum is a giant leap forward. Saccharine purples and browns create a figurative and yet still architectural form. The dominant geometric form in this piece retains the idea of a model for a structure. The paper here exists as the natural landscape for Clay’s rigid geometry. The palette, however, seems to contradict any notion of a natural landscape, with out-of-the-tube purples and hot pinks – Clay’s world is very much a man made one.
Moving to the second room of the gallery there is an evident transition in Clay’s structures. If the first room presents models and blueprints for an environment, the second executes fully realized communities. The paper fringes take on a more rigid structure, taking their place as defined roles in the landscape, now serving less as foliage and more of a solid building ground for the geometric forms that have become homes. The floor sculpture here, Fleshy Janglers, Open Praisers, appears to be a more in-depth look at the model city in “Unshakable Kingdom.” The cotton candy blue of the structures lit by a soft pink light from within reminds of Tim Burton’s classic shot of a pastel suburb with uniform homes in Edward Scissorhands. Clay’s world occupies similar conventions of planned communities, depicting coordinated homes in a pleasant environment. The inhabitants of Clay’s landscape view their world through the rose-colored light we see in their windows.
The wall directly behind Fleshy Janglers, Open Praisers houses The Cloud of Forgetting. This piece recalls a similar sculpture to Inverted Continuum, but here has been made more specific and intimate to a designated use. Much like the structure of the lamppost, the geometry has taken on the role of a simple shell, housing a flame of paper cutouts propelling it forward. The sculpture here seems more a farcical interpretation of a UFO than a house. The geometric forms painted on the wall behind the flying object have abandoned their job as a blueprint, and have morphed into further indication of Clay’s landscape: constellations the cloud exists between, perhaps other clouds in the distance yet to be reached.
Clay’s repetition of shapes and palette throughout the exhibition allow every aspect of her work to relate to itself in a way that creates a fantastical universe unto itself. Her imagined world becomes more of a reality as each piece is explored and fully envelops the audience. This plotted pastel Utopia certainly reads as an optimistic reading of the future. At a time when so much of what we see is weighed down by political and economic pressures, “Nameless Namer” provides a welcome relief to the overly serious, swallowing the viewer for a bit of escapism.