DETROIT — Hey, denizens of the art world, let’s take a moment to consider the radical implications of chilling the fuck out for a minute. First stop: LANK LIMP LEMONS SUCK at Youngworld, where Claire Ashley’s installations of brightly colored, large-scale, abstract inflatables set a playful tone for good times. Do I sound a bit chilled out? It’s possible that I have not quite recovered. It is further possible that I don’t particularly want to.
Can art be challenging and also a good time? Can it teach us something about loving self-acceptance? I believe Ashley’s work can. She says to me:
I am interested in creating democratic access to my work by utilizing a deliberately egalitarian and generous collection of humorous, visceral, and empathetic connections between the viewer and the object (bounce houses, cartoons, bright color, forms that people want to hug), and formal entry points for multiple communities to engage with the work (desire to make a seriously beautiful surface through abstract painting and an intriguingly complex form through monumental sculpture).
Sounds challenging! And yet, entering Youngworld’s sizable warehouse space, filled to the brim with Ashley’s inflatables — every surface finished in shimmering 1980s bright colors — triggers a desire for exactly the kind of physical and emotional encounters she describes. It’s hard to contain a visceral and childish urge to run, jump, burrow into, and bounce against the structures, which are all named in Dr. Seuss-style alliterations (e.g. “slumpydumpy” and “the three amigos: slugger, peely-wally, and nubbin’”). These loose, jiggly shapes at times resemble the human form in an undisciplined state. Perhaps a desire to hug one of Ashley’s pieces is a desire to accept our own fragile, vibrant, jiggly selves for what they are. In talking about the “rack” pieces — grid-like metal frames wrapped in painted (deflated) polymer sheeting — the artist nods to the obvious association of racks as mechanical frameworks or torture devices, but also draws in “rack” as a term for female anatomy, playfully juxtaposing the pert “lumpy bumpy rack” against the “droopy racks,” which appear to be sagging flesh. Ashley considers inflatables an empowering installation material, bragging about the ease with which an entire warehouse full of material was deflated and packed into her car for the drive from her home base of Chicago.
Youngworld Director of Programming, Ben Hall, who, together with YW co-founder Andrew Mehall, previously installed “sky dancer” inflatables typically used to promote car lots or cell phone franchises, had this to say about artists’ use of inflatables:
It’s not populist, but rather open source. People understand the phenomenology of a leaky air mattress … And I think there’s something about capital in Claire’s pieces, that they need constant re-inflation to survive … it’s anti-libertarian, because the only way for it to live is to give in to the constant reinvestment of new resources.
Heady stuff, and par for the course at YW — scratch the surface of the chill vibe, and you will find a deeply considered conceptual framework that keeps these bouncy works firmly grounded. Ashley is exploiting the immediately inclusive nature of inflatables to draw viewers into a conceptual playground — an apt microcosm of YW’s overall ethos of tackling dense concepts in an inclusive manner. If you can find your way to the gallery in the first place — situated as it is along the industrial fringe where Detroit meets Hamtramck’s eastern border — the imperative to chill is palpable, and one consciously cultivated by the art space. Says Hall, “I think the fact that it chills you out is an ultimate compliment, because it’s getting to the very end game of the procedure, which is to make people feel comfortable enough over a period of time that they can participate and interact.”
With Claire Ashley’s work creating an unexpectedly soft landing in a sometimes hard world, is it any wonder I’m trying to carry the chillfest on a little longer? Take it from one serious and hard-driven art worlder to another: sometimes you just have to take a deep breath, let it out, and see where the next bounce takes you.
LANK LIMP LEMONS SUCK continues at Youngworld (6121 Casmere St, Detroit) through September 19.