Tucked in a list of recognizable materials, such as wax and concrete, that make up Quinn Wolff-Wilczynski’s installation Sub Rosa, on view through March 23 in the group exhibition “Scenes of Disproportion” at 368 PONCE, is the tantalizingly vague “personal debris.” This inclusion comes off as both about the creative process and a catalyzing challenge to conventional sculptural materials. (Personal debris, it would seem, is an implicit material in all works of art.) Sub Rosa imitates and deliberately falls short of the standards of classical statuary,Wolff-Wilczynski’s many-faced bust dripping down itself in hand-molded wax. Bags weighted with red wax and shards of cut up photographs beside the bust. Above and behind all this, including the unabashedly handmade table upon which the bust rests, floats a translucent tarpaulin shroud that looks dirty one moment and like lace upon an altar the next. Reveling in the tawdriness and simplicity of these materials, the artist teases your mind and beckons your senses.
The creative sensibility present here, which imbues banal, disposable objects with startling energy and emotion, is shared across the works in “Scenes of Disproportion,” which was curated by Wolff-Wilczynski and 368 PONCE mainstay Joey Molina. Sculptures and installations are intimately displayed within two rooms and a vestibule inside the big house, which was originally constructed in 1919 as a hotel. And so it is again today, with a 21st-century twist: Airbnb guests inhabit the upper portions of the house, lending to the downstairs galleries’ bustling but cozy salon atmosphere. The curators have designed the show so that each installation faces another, scrambling foot traffic and requiring viewers to be aware of their spatial relationships with each other and the artwork on display. This sort of physical attentiveness is elicited throughout the show: the materials themselves contain significance viscerally rather than rationally.
Turn your back on Sub Rosa to discover silver + gold, in which Candice Greathouse+Curtis Ames have filled a doorframe with golden balloons whose gleam has been further enhanced by the polyethylene wrap and silver tape that contain them. Bulging and whimsical though it may be, silver + gold employs deft minimalism to bring on a rush of associations: childhood, celebration, playfulness, victory, wealth. The balloon wall threatens to burst in a psychedelic, cartoonish pop, but what you feel as you stand beside it is not anticipation of an explosion but an awareness of the pressure that causes one, and the sensation of latex against cling wrap. silver + gold brings to mind Deflated Balls, a similar but nearly inverse work in “in general,” Ames’s MINT Leap Year exhibition curated last fall by Greathouse, who serves as MINT’s Gallery and Creative Director. In that work, a motley collection of limp rubber playground balls were arranged in a corner, conveying a literally deflated sense of failure, or a not-so-euphemistic ball busting. Despite the change from impotence to exuberance, silver + gold also uses collection and repetition as techniques for engaging the viewer in a charged but ambiguous encounter. The influence of Ames’s sculptural and installation practices upon silver + gold is combined with Greathouse’s ongoing work with balloons, which figure prominently in some of the video works they’ve created together as Greathouse+Ames.
The schoolyard association of balloons is echoed in Laura Noel’s I Want A Name When I Lose, in which she prints lackluster, laughably bleak achievements on the sort of colorful ribbons native to field day and the county fair. “Beautiful Loser Second Place,” one reads, and another names its recipient a “Social Faller.” Framed in white shadowboxes, these neon and pastel ribbons are stark against the orange wall, and together the bright colors produce a wry sweet-and-sour dissonance. The textual alterations made by Andrew Forrest Baker, with whom Wolff-Wilczynski co-founded the Parallel Georgia Project last year, are even subtler than Noel’s. It wasn’t until I saw his Antiphon a second time that I realized how extensively and cleverly he has edited the language on what first appears to be assembly instructions from IKEA. The Swedish furniture megastore produces a lamp called ANTIFONI, which Baker’s title refracts through choral language to arrive at Antiphon, meaning a response from a choir or congregation during Christian worship. Leaving a few of the original languages intact, Baker has additionally translated assembly instructions into a surprising pair of responding dialects: International Arts English and Southern Gothic. Blending the vernacular and theoretical, Baker pokes fun at both high and low culture, making the distinction between the two the punch line of his joke.
Lauren Peterson’s distinctive installation work is immediately recognizable, and seeing it in a space like 368 PONCE is a special treat. Her meticulously documented and arranged trash pieces fit the institutional orderliness of the Zuckerman Museum in last year’s exhibition “Forget Me Not,” but it’s refreshing to see Peterson’s anthropological obsessiveness at work here, where the house is incorporated into the installation. Called 02/17-02/21 for the dates the artist spent collecting trash and found objects in the blocks surrounding 368 PONCE, it covers half a room with dozens of items that have been tagged and catalogued by Peterson: balls of hair and leaves, bits of plastic and mud, each bearing its own handwritten catalogue number. Despite its careful presentation, the work defies the chronology suggested by its title, providing instead a non-liner stream of sensory impressions. By lavishing such precise attention on grimy objects, Peterson transforms the viewer’s possible revulsion into a desire to touch the dirty plastic bottles and faded receipts. This interplay between touch and desire is also present in Zach Thege’s Bendry’s Rear, which, like Wolff-Wilczynski’s Sub Rosa, deviates from the idealism of classical sculpture in favor of a confessional transparency about the fallibilities of the body and attempts to represent it. The internal wire scaffolding of the eponymous ass in Bendry’s Rear is visible through bumpy, cracked plaster resembling a mysterious skin disease, stopping short any fantasy of grabbing it.
Even with your attention directed towards Peterson or Thege’s work, it’s impossible to be unaware of Jordan Stubbs’s STAY WITH ME, an adjacent video installation showing the artist wrestling inside a roll of corrugated aluminum. The noise from STAY WITH ME hangs above “Scenes of Disproportion” like auditory fog, gradually infiltrating viewers’ headspace. At the moment in the video when the rustling aluminum goes still, the subsequent quiet is more uncomfortable than the noise. In a show full of strange wonders, STAY WITH ME is an arresting anomaly, charming and tiresome at once. Its enthusiastically capitalized title reiterates the installation’s uncompromising demands upon your patience but also induces sympathy and compassion, asking you to imagine a person where you see none and to consider that person physically and emotionally.
The challenge presented by STAY WITH ME exemplifies a disregard for mainstream commercial appeal that, typical of 368 PONCE, pervades “Scenes of Disproportion.” The material simplicity and emotional intensity of the work on display in the exhibition is reminiscent of Arte Povera, a 1960s Italian art movement that embraced unadorned, everyday materials and thumbed its nose at the commercial market. Molina and Wolff-Wilczynski have brought Arte Povera to 368 PONCE, one of only a few galleries in Atlanta where such an ambition seems possible. The immersive nature of the big house provides the perfect setting for such an effort, and emerging from “Scenes of Disproportion” feels like waking from a surreal, emotionally outsized dream. The disproportion here is between the formal minimalism of the work on display and the overwhelming, maximally expressive moments it creates. The curators have brought together some of the most interesting artists working in and around Atlanta, and to miss what they’ve all made together would be to rob yourself of experiencing one of the most engaging shows in the city so far this year.
Logan Lockner is a writer living in Atlanta. He studied English literature and linguistics at Emory University and University College London, concentrating on the work of Virginia Woolf. His writing has appeared online in Oxford American, Paste, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. He was a participant in the second cycle of the Emerging Art Writers Mentorship Program.