Monday, August 25, 2014

Sculpting Tires

Chakaia Booker's latest exhibition Eradication: A Form of Obsession at the Newcomb Art Gallery on the Tulane University campus is the occasion to rediscover the artist, famous for her sculptures made with rubber tires. Following my first exposure to her work at the New Orleans Museum of Art, then an encounter at Art Basel Miami Beach and lately a daily walk by FOCI, an outdoor sculpture located on Poydras Street in New Orleans, I assumed that I knew the artist. After all, what else can be said in the monochrome medium? The conceptual artist's practice has been discussed, analyzed, interpreted and the metaphors about her work abound, alluding to forced labor, industrial revolution, racial differences, scarification,  consumerism, global economy, colonization, social disparities... The artist states her goal in the introduction to the exhibition: " broad, complex cultural transformations can continue to be expressed through common material".
At first sight, the visitor is drawn to a relief sculpture Color of Hope, 2010, a haptic landscape, harmonious construction made of rough material overtaken by curly pieces of rubber resulting in an organic composition, vision of generous opulence and growth surrounded by two intimate, smaller sized wall pieces Misleading Circumstances, 2005 and Masked Appeal, 2012.
The show includes also six sculptures in the round, and the visit becomes an aesthetically pleasing experience looking at Conversion, 2006, a strange animal built with pipes on one side and a rubbery, reptile-like material on  the other, Mixed Message, 2005, black ribbons flowing to the ground, like water out of a fountain, Wrench (Wench), 2001, an over-sized industrial tool featuring a boa feather for a handle or The Nest, 2003, evoking sexuality and birth with its feminine shapes. Privilege of Eating, 2012, goes straight to the point with two shovels representing the voracity of an opulent world  in contrast with the crumbled signs "private property", "no trespassing" embedded in the work, pieces of food carts, a broken door lock, symbols of a deprived world and its resulting marginalization.
The New Jersey hills in Booker's neighborhood are not made of white marble but piles of used tires which have become her medium since the 1990's, bringing analogy to speed, machinery and also pollution. Tearing, cutting, shredding, tugging, carving the tires, the artist's violent gesture to "deconstruct" is  followed by the act of conceptualization and creativity, transcending the material to "reconstruct". The sculptures offer a dialogue between feminine and masculine, roughness and smoothness, wealth and poverty... inviting deeper thoughts, addressing diverse issues with one medium she has transformed into a palette of colors and textures.
What makes the visit at the Newcomb gallery so compelling? The show offers a walk through almost two decades of the artist's practice in a space where the sculptures come alive under the soft natural light diffused through the ceiling and allows to discover the tactility and the depth of the work. An enlightening experience.

photographs by the author:

"Misleading Circumstances", 2005
Detail, "Mixed Messages", 2005
"Industrial Perpetousity", 2001

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