Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Suspended Landscape of Mia Feuer: A Transformation of Space

by L. Kimberley Gillespie
In the uncomfortably negligible space of Transformer Gallery, Mia Feuer’s cumbersome orange and blue crane-ial structures fill, tangle and almost completely overwhelm the single room. “Suspended Landscape,” Feuer’s current installation at Transformer Gallery, Washington DC, is informed by the view of industrial cranes the artist observed on the long train trips she took along the eastern coast of the United States. Referred to on her website as “metaphorical landscapes,” Feuer creates sculptures and images that either depict places of conflict and discord or serene locales that have otherwise been distressed ( In addition to violated landscapes, the subjects Feuer has concerned herself with have included the 2007 collapse of the Minneapolis bridge, the frustrated function of Washington DC’s emergency exit routes as they are congested with traffic and ongoing conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians. Her work speaks to the “instability and chaos of our times.”

Appropriate to the theme of instability, “Suspended Landscape” is constructed of foam and aircraft cable. The overall construction of the piece is complex while details are unapologetically crude. Parts of it are held together with bits of duct tape. An intricate, geometric, floating heap of cranes and pulleys, “Suspended Landscape” reaches toward the gallery skylight, and stretches from window-front to wall. It almost, but not quite, touches the floor and thus contributes to the tension of the piece. Considering “Suspended Landscape” is on view in a gallery and not interacting with the “serene locales” she initially encountered, Feuer quite nicely gets her point across. The piece not only intrudes on the tiny white walls of the gallery, it consumes them from the inside out. Viewers can enter Transformer to interact with the piece, but they’ll need to exercise discreet navigational skills in order to do so. Visitors who attended the opening reception of the exhibit could only enter the gallery a few at a time, and then they had to duck and squirm to avoid collapsing the entire piece. There is one way to view Suspended Landscape: “in your face.” And why not? The roadside sources she describes are a overt assault on an environment and the conflicts she recalls are violent. She seems to be saying, “This should make you uncomfortable.” Literally, it does.

Forcing viewers to physically work in order to gain entrance to her art is not new to Feuer’s work. In her exhibit,
“Turnstile” at Flux Space in Philadelphia (March, 2009), Feuer constructed a labyrinth of steel turnstiles at the entrance of the gallery, forcing her audience to contend with the obstruction of a piece. Recalling her experience of crossing the Israeli / Palestinian borders while living in West Bank, Feuer puts the gallery audience in the peculiar position of having their freedom of movement temporarily impeded upon. Another piece, “Barricade” (2008), is constructed of fifty life-size paper machet donkeys. Presumably dead, the large blue animals with brilliant orange hooves are piled in a giant heap that can be manipulated to form a barrier to any space.

Thwarting the viewer’s ability to access entrance to a space calls to mind the work of artist Richard Serra (American born, 1939). A minimal sculptor, Serra makes large scale sheet metal constructions that dwarf the viewers. In 1981, Serra constructed the piece, “Titled Arc,” outside the Federal Plaza in New York. Large sheets of steel over 3 and a half meters high disrupted the view and inherent openness of the plaza while mocking the authority of imposing buildings surrounding it. People working in the immediate area complained that the piece inhibited the ability to move through the plaza. Serra refused to relocate it, stating that the piece was site specific and that “to relocate the piece is to destroy the art.” Eventually the piece was taken down and destroyed.

There’s something simultaneously funny and tragic in building a structure of something as seemingly permanent as steel girders and cranes out of something as insubstantial and
light as foam. What appears stately and unchanging is fragile and ultimately destructible. That the piece ultimately floats rather than erupts from a foundation further subverts the initial sense of permanence of the structure. Feuer says of her work, “I simultaneously explore terror, violence and destruction while searching for beauty, magic and seduction. Inevitably, my work is apocalyptic at the same time that it is a provocation for a new, more informed beginning.”

The intrusiveness of Suspended Landscape on the Transformer Gallery makes sense; it recalls the ways we have intruded upon
the environment. Even her color choices seem to assault: of the intense orange and blue, Feuer says, “My work employs bold colors and large scale, imposing materials which are intended to create both the aura of authority and a sense of anxiety.“ While the size and tenuousness of the piece evokes a certain sense of angst, I found that the color did precisely the opposite. The intensity of the complimentary colors are rather cheerful and, I find, recalls something as benign as plastic toys. That and the the eventual realization that the piece is constructed with foam makes the whole lot even more friendly, less imposing. Foreboding? Chirpy? I actually like the dichotomy, but it seems to be in conflict with the artist’s intent. Having the appearance of not having been constructed for the space (primarily because it almost doesn’t fit) it seems an appropriate metaphor to what industry has contributed to the landscape, the environment: you can’t see the forest for the debris.

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