HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — While some artists’ stock-in-trade is intentionality, Detroit-based Dylan Spaysky has a more freewheeling air when it comes to his offbeat sculptural creations, most of which employ found objects in various states of brokenness or disrepair. The playfulness with which he approaches these raw materials — including kitty recreation towers, wicker chairs, and sponges — is emblematic of a take-what-comes attitude that reads as genuine.
What has come, in the case of Vases, a group of sculptures on display at Popps Packing in Hamtramck, are a series of “vases” (looking at the work, you can practically hear the air quotes) made of the lumpen material ends of edible discard from an artisanal candy shop Spaysky discovered during a trip to New York. The works bear vestiges of the different candy types, leaving quasi-structured waves of color, the result of a melting and cooling process, by which Spaysky draws a parallel to high-end artisanal glass objects. Having first encountered this material more than a year ago, Spaysky made it into a sculpture that he kept in his studio, gradually warping with humidity and accruing a layer of ambient filth, until he realized he could lacquer it to create a permanent object.
Revisiting the candy store on another, more recent trip to New York, Spaysky was able to source a number of the discarded ends to use as the raw materials for the pieces in this show, finishing them as a series of vessels — the idea of vases inspired by the “necks” that naturally occur as a result of the candy-extruding process. Altogether, nine vases are on display, some embellished with fake flowers to demonstrate their use value, and all named based on visual associations, from “Rainbow Vase” to “Checkered Swan Vase” to the somewhat less appealing “Blood and Puss Vase.”
Anchoring the field of these delicate works are two larger pieces, “Diaper Cake” and “Soap.” Constructed from adult diapers found at thrift stores (discarded, Spaysky conjectures, because their former owners died before using them), “Diaper Cake” is a grotesque send-up of the odd cultural practice of creating cake-shaped towers of diapers for baby showers — as Spaysky told Hyperallergic, “making something mock-edible out of something a person is going to piss and shit in.” Whether the social practice or Spaysky’s commentary on it is ultimately more grotesque or ridiculous is certainly up for debate.
This collecting and repurposing of common cultural practices is an omnipresent thread in Spaysky’s art, which seems very much a vehicle for him to explore the odd accouterments of his suburban Midwestern upbringing. Tacky Glue, a show currently on display at Clifton Benevento in New York, for example, features a fountain filled with foot bath detox water — a holistic hoax that claims to draw toxins out through the user’s feet, which is currently in vogue among certain members of Spaysky’s family. The same show also includes a couple of “door harps” — a type of decoration that plays a little chime based on the opening and closing of the door — which are prevalent in the Midwest but would be more or less unheard-of in urban cultural milieus. Especially when showing work outside his native region, Spaysky seems compelled to Midwest-up his presentation.
Spaysky also seems to have a perverse love of creating works that are challenging to preserve. In the past, this has included using base materials such as vegetables or milk and cereal pickled in jars that form the bases of lamps, making fountains containing vinegar or rarefied aqueous content (like the foot detox water), or simply binding objects together by the relatively weak agent of hot glue. In Vases, this tendency — which he admits is at least partially a poke at the high-maintenance culture of the gallery art market — is manifest in the other larger-scale work, “Soap.” For this piece, Spaysky created an artisanal soap pop-up shop, with a display that would not be out of place in a mall franchise like Lush or on a kiosk at Whole Foods, selling his own handmade soap in chunks, priced by weight, to attendees of the Popps opening night event. Spaysky acknowledges this as being a mechanism to deal with his unease abut charging blue-chip prices in the relatively limited-means art market of Hamtramck, a desire to offer something at an affordable price point to patrons, but one can detect a sense of barely contained glee underlying his effort to include everyone, economically and conceptually, in his fun.
With Vases, Spaksky continues to developed his reputation within and outside Detroit as a bold thinker, examining objects and practices that are personal and immediate to him in a way that can expand to include both the highest and lowest watermarks of culture.
Vases continues at Popps Packing (12138 St. Aubin., Hamtramck, Michigan) through January 2, 2016.
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