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Walking past Open Source Gallery’s temporary space on Franklin Street I saw several anthropomorphic boxes lined against the walls, their hyper-simplicity too charming to dismiss. I walked inside where, as fortune would have it, artist Raphaela Riepl was manning the show, titled Adorable Steamed Sea Urchin. We spent some time discussing her work and creative process, and then I explored the exhibition’s crew of energetic sculptures.
Each sculpture in Adorable is titled after the email addresses of Riepl’s friends, to poke fun at the absurdity of the names and to strip the works of suggestive labeling, leaving them open to interpretation. “sakamoto19831215” is made up of several whitewashed cardboard boxes standing on two wooden pegs with a layer of matchsticks protruding out of its “skin.” The texture and tactility animates the sculpture from a pile of boxes to a somewhat convincing portrayal of a two-legged blowfish. A giant box wrapped in Christmas lights with strips of packing peanuts hanging from its bottom make up “schatty12000,” resembling a jellyfish rendered a la third grade science project. Whether or not the sculptures accurately imitate sea creatures is tangential to Riepl’s efforts to join her creative process to the making of an alternate reality, a momentary escapism or rejection of singular truths.
These coy creatures are the results of spontaneous outbursts of creative energy, a haphazard layering of whatever materials are available, laying strewn about her studio. With prickly, color-saturated surfaces and cheaply packed innards, each sculpture evokes the immediacy and earnestness found in the imaginary figures of our childhood. I can just imagine the artist playing evil scientist, poking her boxy victims with pretzel sticks and paint rollers, bringing them to life with a flick of a blue light switch. There is no hiding how these works were made, and this accessibility to understanding process expands to how easily we can consume them as viewers. Such concerns of production and viewership are at the forefront of Riepl’s creative process, and it’s a brief yet welcome escape from the at times tiresome, over-conceptualized rhetoric found in artmaking today.
Riepl hails from Austria and has been an intern for Open Source Gallery for a year. Originally located in South Slope, Brooklyn, the gallery fell victim to a fire and has since been a nomadic space until renovations are complete. The impromptu gallery, hosted by a run down vacant space in Greenpoint, provided the perfect setting for the show with its unfinished wooden floor panels and splotchy walls, complete with water stains and shoddy construction light bulbs. It seamlessly tied into the rawness of the works on display, which also include an upturned mop leaning against the wall with packing peanuts wrapped around its waist, the handwritten quote “Im gonna wear your guts for dinner” hovers above. The piece was made on a whim as a coping method, to mock with sarcasm and wit the goings-on of her personal life. It’s this tenacious punk spirit that makes the show so immediate.
Adorable Steamed Sea Urchin runs through March 31 at Open Source Gallery, 174 Franklin Street, Brooklyn.