HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — Let’s take a moment to appreciate weird beauty, and Shaina Kasztelan’s celebration of it, in her wild, multimedia paintings. In the inaugural solo show of Hamtramck’s new KO Gallery — headquarters for the Heavenly Dogs art collective, of which Kasztelan is a member — this young artist presents her apocalyptic assemblages of female youth culture in a show with an appropriately mashed-up title, Wet Hot American Queen of the Damned.
Kasztelan’s aesthetic is a candy flip gone wrong; a Lisa Frank kitten that ate one too many Ring Pops and puked rainbows; or Marilyn Manson’s lingerie drawer. She deftly combines a metric ton of cheap commodities for girls, like stickers and plastic jewelry, into tight displays — offering startling, disturbing, and funny flashes of personal storytelling amid the nauseous and hallucinogenic whirl of suburban, mass-market femininity. Kasztelan gives each of her vignettes a story, with evocative titles like, “If I Shaved My Pussy,” “The Intergalactic Amoeba Goes Trick-or-Treating,” and “The Loneliest Gay Dolphin in the Universe.” What appears to be a formal arrangement of twin My Little Pony heads kissing atop a heart with a window revealing an interred ribcage is actually the anatomy of the relationship of “Two Spooky Bitches in Love.” The formerly gothic and self-pitying teenagers among us will instantly recognize snatches of NIN lyrics hand-stitched into samplers, or overt and visual references to psych medications and other pharmaceutical culture.
Though the works for Wet Hot American Queen of the Damned are mostly small, 2D canvases (or, given Kasztelan’s penchant for objects that rise precipitously off the plane of the painting, perhaps we could term this 2½D), she has an interdisciplinary practice that includes public murals, cake-like sculptures, installation, and window displays (a couple of which populate the street-facing entryway of the gallery’s storefront). Most recently, I saw one of her mobiles at MOCAD, and though the format is a new experiment for Kasztelan, it is a perfect structure-as-metaphor, because her work is ultimately about balance. The radioactive palette, schlocky particulate materials, and cultural associations that get thrown into her blender make it easy to miss how honed her compositions are. Each canvas features dozens of textural, colorful, and material elements, but Kasztelan draws them together into formally aesthetic topographies, as well as recognizable narratives — anyone with a remotely millennial sensibility will find something to relate to.
Kasztelan exposes the outrageous trappings of commercialized femininity by wrangling all the glittery, cake-topping, cartoon-like, clown-laden accessories of girl craft into watertight (and oh-so-sparkly!) arrangements. The results are decidedly feminist. In each of her compositions, Kasztelan is working against the forced femininity that is crammed down girls’ throats from their first pink, unicorn-motif onesie. If this is how society talks to women, then this is how Kasztelan chooses to talk back. She presents a portrait of emerging womanhood without eliminating the accessories of girlhood, graphically sorting through issues of sexuality, interpersonal angst, and mental health issues out of the material whirl, making serious art out of playful beginnings.
Wet Hot American Queen of the Damned continues at KO Gallery (9536 Jos Campau, Hamtramck, MI) through August 5. There will be an artist talk and movie double feature (Wet Hot American Summer and Queen of the Damned) at KO Gallery on August 4 at 7pm.