In this exhibition, the five artists of RISD’s Sculpture MFA 2017 graduating class embody this theme from a variety of material and conceptual positions. Each in their own ways destabilizes conventions of component utility: use function, aesthetic purpose, and speculative excesses merge and swap. As those component parts morph, first impressions become fleeting detours: the results are objects that are not what they initially appear to be.
The title of the exhibition borrows from Irving Biederman’s theory of bottom-up visuality, in which we recognize objects only after breaking them down into discrete geometric forms. An incomplete theory, it still yields an interesting paradigm: a whole not greater or other than its parts, but greater/other/and. Conflict and multiplicity characterize the whole and its parts in perpetuity, an intriguing parallel to the contemporary cultural and political condition, of questionable but critical consensus.
In Jared Akerstrom’s semi-improvisational assemblages, each part is carefully formed and intimately motivated. From 3D-printed connectors informed by modular architecture to carved wood abstractions, each is intrinsically autonomous, stable. However, they combine precariously, physical/visual instability echoed in a greater relational recombination – a body of work made of pieces in temporary coalition against the forces of gravity. There’s a similar tension in Ellie Tomlinson’s pieces, but the axis of conflict shifts: small off-label goods become untethered from their fabricated purposes, and are re-tethered to crafted structures indexing interior body parts and entrapment. Serial systems – stacks of lobster cages, cyanotypes of grinning faces – are entities occupied with absorbing parts for no other purpose than its own integrity, extended models of a gestalt body logic of compartmentalized magical thinking.
In the bricks of Julia Betts, we see a failure of absorption – the plaster forms fall short of containing the studio trash they’re meant to contain. Minimalist aspirations implode, interior rot rises to the surface, the hoard displaces its author. Material unruliness challenges the possibility of categorization, and each brick creates an emergency of care – turning geometric seriality from resolution to organic expansion. In Bobby Anspach’s work, this last idea takes on a performative-immersive tilt, in which the white cube invites you into its interior life. And what does it yield? A solitary spectacle, an eye-tingling expanse of infinite dots – but this dreamy infinitude is branded, thus doubly contained from the inside as well as its exterior. Reduction is key to Makia Sharp’s work as well, but in the tonal spill works, there’s a slow creep: of liquid across a lightly wrinkled tablecloth, of difference of degree from one image to the next, a slow motion error of manners or neglect or worse. Minimalist aesthetics morph into maximum horror, narrative inaccessibility per near-invisibility touches an existential nerve: all manner of eclipses emerge in turn.
— Jen Liu