PHILADELPHIA — If you’ve ever wondered how much room you might need for a gallery, pay a visit to the artist-run co-op Tiger Strikes Asteroid, and you’ll see that you can get by with very little. For the current exhibit, Remote Control, curated by Jessica Hough and Francesca Richman, nine works by four separate artists are contained within a room that’s roughly 8×12 feet.
Part of the University of Pennsylvania’s Incubation Series, the exhibit brings together graduate students in the university’s Fine Arts and History of Art programs. According to the website, the series “is a laboratory to experiment [with] new ways of making and seeing art, embracing a process of collective development.” Tiger Strikes Asteroid doesn’t necessarily offer a new way to see art, but the work by Danielle Cartier, Kasey Toomey, Alex Snowden, and Christopher Richard shows the promise of this through collective activity.
Danielle Cartier’s two collage works, “Transfer” (2016) and “Construction” (2016), use the seductive appeal of commercial images to invoke our unacknowledged doubts and desires. The latter, with its mix of Swisher Sweet cigar labels, beachside men and women, and handwritten notes saying “admit it*” and “never did*,” seemingly ripped from a daily planner, suggest the visual and sometimes guilt-ridden cacophony inside one’s head. Cartier’s adept assembly of images pressed me to ask, “What do I need to admit?”
Kasey Toomey’s assemblage, “My Island, Like a Sea,” (2016) is a complementary companion to Cartier’s collages. A large wooden panel, affixed with plastic hot dogs, a bladeless oscillating fan, a full set of color markers, a white dish tub, and a clear, plastic sign that reads “Lew Blum,” it has a lighthearted appeal. Blum’s name emblazons hundreds of signs warning of steep fines in parking lots throughout the city. According to a 2002 article in the Philadelphia Weekly, “It’s Lew Blum’s world — we just park in it.” My hunch is that Blum has ruined Toomey’s day more than once.
A TV is placed mysteriously behind a series of rowed venting incorporated into the wood panel below the plastic Blum sign. The imagery, by design, is hard to see. The one decipherable image is a pink, rectangular, eraser-shaped monolith that ricochets around the screen. The imagery is accompanied by a tropical soundtrack that blends in with the sound of water running into the white dish tub; a lemon and a lime with their rinds scraped away float in water. The title, “My Island, Like a Sea,” captures the attitude of this work; grounded in detail, yet open to the fluidity of incongruous references. It also evokes John Donne’s poem, with the lines, “No man is an island entire of himself; every man/ is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”
Alex Snowden’s “Portal” (2016), a large tapestry printed with a red brick pattern hanging at the back of the space, called to mind Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII” (1966). In Andre’s piece, bricks piled on the floor shape the viewer’s experience of the gallery. Snowden’s tapestry, which blocks the windows in the tight industrial space of Tiger Strikes Asteroid, exerts similar control over the viewer’s experience. To navigate that end of the gallery, one needs to squeeze around the obstruction, with some concern over whether visitors are even allowed behind the tapestry.
Two untitled works by Snowden are placed in opposite corners of the room. In any other setting, these sculptures would seem like construction-site detritus. For both works, Snowden applied drywall plaster and canned foam insulation to rectangular pieces of plywood and affixed them together, creating small spaces at the lower end of the works. The space near the bottom of “Untitled (Lime Tree, Exotic Blossom, After Rain)” (2016), which sits in the back left corner, seems appropriate for large leaflets or collections of construction materials. In the opposite corner of the gallery, Snowden outfitted the small space at the bottom of “Untitled” (2016) with a red, velvety pillow, perfectly sized for a cat or a small dog, but with a spooky, almost David Lynchian character.
Along the right wall, there are three large framed textile works by Christopher Richard. In “Puppet Theatre” (2016), the title adds depth to the richly colored textures of cloth and plastic tape that run vertically in a shabbily ornate frame. The strips, which have the bygone feel of seventies and eighties clothing and interior design, form a makeshift curtain, waiting to be lifted so that the show can begin. In the upper right corner of the frame, there is a patch of slick brown material with a garland of tiny yellow flowers. It’s a nice touch for a work that operates as visual abstraction while simultaneously inviting viewers to imagine a puppet show. In each piece, Richard displays an acute understanding of how to play smaller details off the larger image.
While I appreciated the creative arrangement of the works in Remote Control, I felt crowded and uncomfortable. Perhaps that’s the point. The gallery’s website explains “Remote Control envisages the myriad manifestations of the approach of bodies and beings to form.” But I was frustrated that a few of the works, particularly Richards’ “Every Sunset Strip” (2016), suffered from compromised views. Navigating that corner of the gallery made it feel as if I were squeezing into the stock room of a corner store. The arrangement of this show worked as an experiment, but the artworks would be better served had they been allowed some space.
Remote Control continues at Tiger Strikes Asteroid (319A N. 11th Street, Suite 2H, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) through today.