Saturday, March 1st, 2008

Diana Puntar: Lived Live Evil Devil at Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery

621 West 27th Street
New York City
212 255 0979

January 11 – March 1, 2008

installation shot, courtesy Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery
installation shot, courtesy Oliver Kamm/5BE Gallery

These stand-alone sculptures consist of carefully shaped and sanded slats of half inch plywood that have been glued or nailed together, one on top of another, to form a unified gestalt, various types of reflective glass beads, and pieces of foam that have been covered in pale green phosphorescent paint and carved and punctured. The contrast between organic and non-organic materials is one of the many dichotomies that complicate these sculptures, as with Diana Puntar’s earlier work. The sculptures in this exhibition do not subvert their biomorphic elements with minimalist overtones nor are there any strong contrasts between these two styles. Their meticulous fabrication and smooth surfaces do belie any parallels these sculpted forms have with the organic world, but they can’t quite let it go either. Before entering the gallery space, one must step on and off of a raised platform and this creates a sensation of descending into an alternate reality or intruding upon a more intimate space.

These vertical forms are the result of an additive process. Puntar made them by stacking half inch slats of inexpensive plywood that are cut with a jigsaw or router and then placed on top of one another. This creates tapering, cylindrical, or bulbous forms when the process is complete. Once the series of segments or rings have been placed on top of one another the artist grinds, files, and sands the sides and tops of the plywood segments that form the exterior of the shapes, the ones that are visible to viewers, and then she coats all of the plywood with a low-luster polyurethane, giving the wood a dull but noticeable sheen. The sheen unifies the surface but the individual slices of plywood are still easy to make out because of their varying tonal values. This process generates another formal contradiction in the sense that the sculptural forms look they have been carved, as if the whole form was hewn from a block of wood, but in fact the carving was not done until the individual segments were fitted together.

Some of these sculptures call to mind such organic materials as tree stumps and roots, coral branches, stalactites, thorns, tubular worm-like forms, and also such non-organic materials as ribbed ventilation tubes and psychedelic end tables. Strangeness wins out over any utilitarian overtones though. These sculptures are meticulously crafted, simple flowing forms. Their biomorphic qualities are undermined by the fabrication process, but this increases the sense of otherness they generate. They remind us of organic matter, but the suggestions of organic life are more general than specific and it appears that the artist has focused on the more universal traits of organic life in order to draw our attention away from any specific associations with the earthly terrain or familiar forms of life. Instead they suggest imaginary beings that are not the product of fantasy, but rather of imaginative speculation on the real but unknown. As Robert Scholes has stated with reference to the science fiction genre, the sculptures are “discontinuous from the world we know, yet they confront the known world in some cognitive way.”

These sculptures are variations within a genus, or a group marked by common characteristics, because they our connected to one another through sameness of materials and coloration, but there are obvious differences between each sculpture. They relate to one another the same way a phylum would. There are similarities between individual sculptures; all but one has a pale green foam segment and all but one includes a mirrored surface or add-on. They are a structurally related species. The wood portions look the same although they are not exactly the same because of the uniqueness of each slice of plywood, and while stepping around and in between these sculptures we feel like we are trespassing on a communion, a ritual; there is communication among the imaginary entities but we are not privy to it.

Our own distorted image plays across the mirrored surfaces on each sculpture and this reflectivity is ambiguous because we can easily imagine that these mirrored sections are weird optical apparatuses for these alien forms. We feel like we are being observed because each sculpture is positioned in such a way that they appear to be animate, alert, with wills of their own. The mirrored portions of these sculptures, whether they are globes placed prominently on the exteriors or concave hubs nestled within them in such a way that the viewer must look down or up into them to see them, act as what Carl Freedman would call “a cognitive continuum with the actual.” We see ourselves and the world we move around in, in real time as we look at the sculptures. So reality acts as a reference point, but the forms themselves remain strange and other.

The sculptures that resemble tree stumps contradict their affinities with the organic matter we are familiar with because the lines the individual layers form, that run from top to bottom of the plywood segments of the sculpture, are horizontal, go in a direction that is opposite to the way bark, the broken lines formed by the separate pieces of it encasing the sapwood, run vertically up all types of trees. The artist suggests organic reality but contradicts these parallels to the natural world at the same time. This draws the work into the realm of the science fictional, as does the artist’s use of phosphorescent paint.

It absorbs light rays and radiates light when other light sources in the room are dimmed or shut off. The light green light created by the phosphors in the phosphorescent paint dim quickly. This connects the artist’s use of light more to the phenomena of bioluminescence that we see in nature rather than the conduction of electricity. The same way a dull brown and black firefly is transformed on a summer night, the way it becomes a meandering and hovering yellow green blip of light that implies transit, or a notion of agency across space, occurs when these sculptures are viewed in the dark. The light emitted by the parts of the sculptures covered with phosphorescent paint, its glowing quality, convinces the viewer that it is the result of internal energy in the source itself.