Art

What a Teenager’s Backpack Tells Us About Art

Amanda Ross-Ho "Cradle of Filth" (2013) (image via shanecampbellgallery.com)
Amanda Ross-Ho, “Cradle of Filth” (2013) (image via shanecampbellgallery.com)

CHICAGO — Amanda Ross-Ho recreated a soft-sculpture replica of an anonymous teen-girl’s backpack, blowing it up to 400% of its original size. It hangs at the back of the white-walled gallery space, the focal point of her solo exhibition Cradle of Filth that juxtaposes this adolescent girl’s heart-and-soul scribbled onto a backpack with a series of abstract paintings on a faded, light-blue colored canvas that mirrors that of the backpack itself. Titles like “Untitled Painting (BLINK 182)” and “Untitled Painting (HALLOWEEN NIGHT!)” suggest the emotional gushing of the backpack’s teen-girl aesthetic.

This all typifies Ross-Ho’s style, in which she often chooses found objects that embody a particular class or sociopolitical group, placing them in a gallery space, and meshing “high art” culture with a mass media “low culture” street aesthetic much in the same way that artist Abigail DeVille does through her site-specific detritus installations. A stark difference between the work of DeVille and Ross-Ho is there is not an ounce of humanity present in the former’s work; for Ross-Ho, the human presence makes this work snap and click, buckle and bend — like a nimble young girl practicing her gymnastics skills.

Ross-Ho’s work also echoes the objecthood of Claes Oldenburg’s pop art soft sculptures like “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1985) or the giant badminton birdies of the Shuttlecocks series (1994). Oldenburg’s work acts as a disruption to Abstract Expression in the same way Ross-Ho’s giant girl backpack brings a purely teen-girl aesthetic into the art world.

Claes Oldenburg, "Spoonbridge and Cherry."  Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis Stainless steel and aluminum painted with polyurethane enamel 29 ft. 6 in. x 51 ft. 6 in. x 13 ft. 6 in. (9 x 15.7 x 4.1 m) Commissioned February 1985 by the Walker Art Center Gift of Frederick R. Weisman in honor of his parents, William and Mary Weisman Installed May 9, 1988 Inaugurated May 11, 1988
Claes Oldenburg, “Spoonbridge and Cherry” (1988) Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Walker Art Center. (walkerart.org/garden)

In this space of ghosting teeangedom through a found object amplified, Ross-Ho’s abstract paintings envision what this teen-girl may have painted or could one day paint should she retain her fluid young-girl identity into adulthood. The teen girl who once owned this backpack lives on through Ross-Ho’s recreation, but the raw emotional value is drained of its original meaning and context; the permanent marker scrawlings are dry, the backpack’s zippers won’t ever break and the black buckles are perfectly unscratched and untouched by the elements. As such, this teen-girl relic has become part of the art world, christened by the four white walls that act as a rite of passage into this sanctified space.

Amanda Ross-Ho. Untitled Painting (BLINK 182); Untitled Painting (CRADLE OF FILTH);Untitled Painting (HALLOWEEN NIGHT!).  All paintings dated 2013; acrylic on dyed canvas 24h x 18w in (60.96h x 45.72w cm)
Amanda Ross-Ho, “Untitled Painting (BLINK 182); “Untitled Painting (CRADLE OF FILTH)”; “Untitled Painting (HALLOWEEN NIGHT!)”. (All 2013) (SOURCE)

Amanda Ross-Ho’s solo exhibition Cradle of Filth continues through June 22 at Shane Campbell Gallery (673 N Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago).

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