InDirect Effect: Christian Benefiel / Jennifer Gilman
Through April 19 at Area 405
Jennifer Gilman's "Liminal Drift #5" takes up almost the entirety of Area 405's front gallery space. The installation uses what appears to be a dump truck's worth of colored sawdust and spreads it across the floor in a slightly imperfect grid pattern. It runs from the very front of the room all the way to the back wall, and looks like it was pushed into the grid pattern with a series of shop brooms. The reddish-hued sawdust forms little ridges that create a series of parallel and orthogonal lines on the floor. It engulfs the room, leaving a double-wide sidewalk of hardwood floors running around its perimeter. And given its enormousness, it's perplexing why it feels so slight when walking around it and drinking it in.
Size matters. So does perspective- how something appears from where we look at it-which is what subtly unites the two artists of InDirect Effect. At first glance, Christian Benefiel's large-scale sculptures that predominantly use lumber, and Gilman's ephemeral floor installation of sawdust, share only size and materials: different ways to work large made out of the things used/that result from the making of big things. That's a simplistically banal connection, and one that especially doesn't lead to a lasting impression in regard to "Liminal Drift #5." Gilman is a Los Angeles-based artist and architectural designer, and there's the patina of the architectural model about her installation. You can almost imagine this floor grid becoming the organizational framework for a suburban subdivision in its early stages, and you walk around it regarding the layout, thinking about on which plots to plop the middle school, the mixed-use retail center, the public transportation hub, the little boxes made of ticky tacky. And the setting doesn't capitalize on the material: Area 405 already has an industrial sensory experience, so this volume of sawdust doesn't produce the olfactory experiential immersion that comes from, say, Wolfgang Laib's floor installations. You're left with this anodyne impression, the only lasting thought being its rough-hewn boutique color. It could be a new hue for pre-distressed chinos in a J. Crew catalog: wild-caught salmon.
Let's come back to Gilman's piece after taking a trip through Benefiel's five sculptures. And definitely walk in, around, and through the one you can: "Lacking code compliance in social strcuture" is a stegosaurus of two-by-fours, rope, cast iron counterbalance, and an extension ladder installed obliquely in the gallery, almost wrapping itself around one of the building's vertical supports. It makes it seem as if the piece was trying to escape through the wide sliding doors into the courtyard to the east and was instantly stilled and left to fossilize by sudden freeze or lava bath.
It's an eye-grabbing piece, looking like a giant is using a lumber yard for a game of pick-up sticks. The five other pieces here aren't as monumentally scaled, but they are as dramatically pitched. There's a chaotic mischief to the work, and the West Virginia-based artist wisely doesn't shy away from showmanship. Some of the pieces give the impression that the only thing holding them together is simple physics. "Offering some kind of reward" looks a bit like a large badminton shuttlecock made of wood slats shoved into a coil of cast iron. It leans against the wall and spreads the slats into a fan pattern, and you get the impression that if you moved any part of it, the whole effect would evaporate. This sense of a frozen moment in time recurs through the works, a sense that disturbing the wrong item ends the sculpture's Jenga game. "Ongoing resolution" is a floral arrangement of wood slats speared through the spokes and frame of a mountain bike and suspending it off the ground, like an animal that's run afoul of a trapping pit lined with Punji sticks. One final slat juts from one side of this felled quarry and creeps under the top corner of a simple wood chair, keeping it akimbo on one leg.
There's a breach toward one end of "Lacking code compliance in social structure." Go ahead and stand underneath-qua-inside the sculpture and look at it up close and personal. Taking in the details, it becomes this declarative abstraction of bold, simple geometric figures-almost like constructivist architecture. Except Benefiel's work lacks constructivism's slightly menacing, futuristic utopianism. In fact, there's a kinetic anarchy to his works, a sense that efforts to work toward some idealized but as yet unrealized human future is a fool's errand. Benefiel's "Lacking code compliance in social strcuture" and "Ongoing resolution" feel like mere stages in the life of his materials' entropy. After the show, they could become something else. Time erodes the monumental.
With this in mind, return to the front gallery with Gilman's "Liminal Drift #5." If the piece does feel a bit too much like a planned neighborhood from above, how might it appear from the user's experience? What does it look like from the ground?
So walk over to the building's front wall and sit on the floor. Better yet, take your phone, rest one side on the floor, and take a landscape photo of Gilman's installation. What does it look like? A desert of red sand extending in rows of dunes as far as the eyes can see. Maybe this isn't the suburban footprint in its early stages. Maybe this piece is that subdivision after its inhabitants are long gone. It's not becoming, it's returning into the elements from which it came.