The exhibition in the back room of A.I.R. Gallery‘s new space in Dumbo feels like a cross between a temple and an archaeological site. The objects in Sara Mejia Kriendler‘s The Anthropocene have a devotional, votive aura to them that is emphasized by their arrangement and lighting, but many are also cracked or smashed, displayed like curios from some perplexing civilization on shelves, styrofoam platforms, or behind glass. The trick Kriendler pulls off so deftly with the show, though, is to let viewers gradually realize that these enigmatic objects are vestiges of contemporary civilization, the sort of thing that may be dug up and pored over hundreds of years from now by scholars specializing in 21st Century Studies.
The clearest indicator of the exhibition’s ecological politics is its title, which is a term some scientists use to define the current geological period as one characterized by humankind’s impact on the planet. Accordingly, Kriendler uses a material that is both ubiquitous and very likely to outlast us — styrofoam — to create many of her works. It’s a rather extreme demonstration of Siegfried Kracauer’s claim that a civilization’s most telling and illuminating artifacts are not its high culture, but its disposable and throwaway creations. Kriendler combines the two categories, repurposing trashed packaging to make art. The result, though very different visually, echoes the themes of Ian Trask’s recent installation at the Invisible Dog.
Treating empty and discarded packaging for toys, mannequins, electronics, and other consumer goods as molds, she casts clay and plaster sculptures that are confounding but unshakably familiar. Several pieces on view at A.I.R. incorporate the stylized human forms of containers that once held toy dolls or clothing store mannequins. In the exhibition’s focal work, a clay female torso floats against a crimson wall hanging whose ornate patterns evoke a tapestry. The material is actually store-bought paper towels, hence the piece’s tongue-in-cheek title, “Bounty” (2015). The clay dolls figure prominently in “In Line for the Shrine” (2015), which cast the ghostly white humanoids as statues in what looks like a scale model of a memorial monument for humanity.
Other works highlight the abstractness of the shells that deliver our goods to us intact. In “One Egg Short” (2015), confounding clay bas reliefs sit atop three stacks of cast plaster objects and styrofoam cups and platforms. The base of each stack is made up of real eggs in egg cartons, a rare moment of heavy-handedness in an exhibition whose strength derives in large part from its restraint and mystery. Our civilization is in such peril, the sculptures seem to say, it’s as if we’re walking on eggshells. What’s going on atop the stacks is much more interesting. Kriendler has placed a tiny human figure alongside two of the clay objects —which look equally viable as containers for a car part or computer component— thereby turning them into architectural maquettes. The squat, cracking, bunker-like buildings add to the air of post-human reliquary and futurology that lurks throughout The Anthropocene.