It’s a full-size Hyundai Accent, circa 2000, collapsed in the middle of the gallery floor. Or rather, the shell of one, bone-white and cracked apart, like a melting iceberg or a flash-frozen relic from the next ice age. In fact, it’s called “Relic” (2014), cast by Jude Tallichet in Forton (an architectural casting stone) from a car she borrowed from a friend. The original Hyundai, just so you know, is still in running condition.
This is the second exhibition this year in which Tallichet has dealt with the automobile as an object slated for destruction. In May, in the narrow ancillary space at Valentine Gallery in Ridgewood, she showed “Time of the Season” (2014), in which miniature speakers, blasting an electronic version of the old Zombies tune, propelled seven crayon-colored, football-sized, aluminum foil cars into the air with each burst of a bass note.
The Hyundai in Tallichet’s current solo at Studio 10 in Bushwick looks remarkably like its ill-fated, caved-in, aluminum foil counterparts —dented and crumpled like a deflated balloon — but its drolly pathetic state, spread-eagled on the floor (as much as a car can spread-eagle), also feels starkly, scarily violent. The billowing and wrinkling of the rubber molds, the sharp, jagged edges of the Forton slabs, the pulled-apart doors, bent hubcaps and ripped tires conspire to create a quintessential vision of a nightmare car wreck.
If, as the gallery’s press release states, the sculpture is predicated on “the shift in America from the optimism of our old ‘open road’ culture with its romantic connotations of freedom and possibility to the present state of malaise,” it also marks the end of that road — a horrific death within a confined space and the irreversible despoilment of the air, water and soil. And it undermines the denial we practice each time we step into a car, that we’re not strapping ourselves into a coffin.
The show is called U-Turn, and the literal U-turn on display is the sculpture “Arch” (2014), slightly off to the corner from “Relic.” As colorful and ascendant as the car is bleached and broken, its gate-like structure and luminously painted surface (cast from dozens of plates and pieces of crockery found in the former Queens synagogue Tallichet shares as a home and studio with her husband, the artist Matt Freedman) feel at once Romanesque, Islamic, Hindu, neo-Dada and graffiti-esque. Thirty inches wide and eleven feet high, it’s both bizarrely ungainly in its concatenation of vases, urns, bowls and plates, and inexplicably elegant in the attenuated, Mannerist lift of its two closely-placed columns, which are capped by the sharp curve of a top-heavy Roman arch. It shouldn’t be able to stand upright, at least not for long, even with the assistance of the steel rod listed among the materials on the checklist, but it does.
The third part of the show is a scattering of bronze-cast cracked and distressed iPhones, each bearing an inscription whose unattributed source can range from the literary (Jorge Luis Borges: “The original is unfaithful to the translation”) to the anonymous. Collectively titled “Small Monuments” (2014), the sculptures’ use of bronze is simultaneously ironic and dignifying. You register them first as alluring, handheld Minimalist objects, then recognition kicks in and you question the conditioning of your response: were you initially attracted to them for their materiality and simplicity, or because they match the length, width, depth and beveled edges of the phone in your pocket? The etched inscriptions, with their wry inversion of the ephemerality of text messages, look like epitaphs on elfin sarcophagus lids, signaling the death of (fill in the blank).
The repurposed car, crockery and phones couldn’t be more dissimilar, almost disconcertingly so. But they’re all relics, in their own way, as well as U-turns. The deconstructed car takes a once-valuable commodity and turns it into a slag heap; the phones give you pause over the monetary and cultural distinctions between an iPhone6+ and a work of art based on an obsolete predecessor (and makes you wonder, if given the choice, which you would rather buy). On the opposite end of the value spectrum, the castoff, essentially worthless dinnerware is re-imagined as the artist’s own private Ishtar Gate.
Cars, phones and plates serve basic human needs, but the first two are subject to planned obsolescence while the pottery is universal and timeless — a difference that perhaps played into the inclination to portray the car and phones as archaeological finds and the pottery as an architectural wonder of indeterminate provenance. The casting process is used not to simulate an object but to encase it within a continuum of signification, which the artist further compounds and contradicts. Tallichet’s initial sources aren’t exactly unfaithful to their translations, but they recede rather dramatically into the backstory as the artwork sprouts secondary and tertiary meanings like mushrooms after a thundershower.
You may feel, as you walk into the gallery and confront the shattered ghost-car — piled like hastily reassembled sections of a skull or the exoskeleton of some prehistoric beast — alongside its companion pieces of recycled trash, that you’ve encountered the end of everything. But the sculptures’ fertile conjunction with their sources soon effloresces into an unaccountable buoyancy, a cogency amid the unraveling, an afterlife cocooned within the apocalypse.
Jude Tallichet: U-Turn continues at Studio 10 (56 Bogart Street, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through November 9.