Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan
ICA Boston
October 10, 2008 – January 4, 2009

Seventeen works created over the past decade make up American artist Tara Donovan’s first major solo museum exhibition. A master of the unremarkable, Donovan fashions mundane materials such as drinking straws, tape and disposable drinking cups into otherworldly landscapes. Repetitive stacking, piling and grouping reveal her acute eye for potentials overlooked when these objects are experienced in relative isolation. “Untitled (Plastic Cups)” from 2006, for example, is just what it says: stacks of cups. The sheer volume of the stacks removes prior recognition of the object and replaces it with a mesmerising, undulating snowfield. Similarly, “Haze”, first installed in 2004 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, is a log-stack of drinking straws against the gallery wall. When walking back and forth in front of the work, a honeycomb effect appears that distorts with each step to create a dynamic optical game. “Bluffs” (2005) transforms stacks of translucent buttons into stalagmites that feel as though they keep slipping out of focus.

Much of the work on display evokes comparisons with the cold: icicles, frost, dark water, freezing cloudbanks. A lack of colour – materials are largely monochrome – may be partially responsible for these associations. The colours that do appear are part of a shifting palette created through shadow and reflection. Folded strips of Mylar, for example, suggest a marine landscape of coral, varying from inky black to sharp silver and white in "Untitled (Mylar)" from 2007. Warm pinks appear in the paper plates that make up the mushroom-like “Untitled (Paper Plates)” made in 2003. Curiously, the repeating cell-like structures that are present throughout the exhibition do not suggest ominous associations with viral or cancerous growth. Instead wonder is conjured through the slow realization of what makes up Donovan’s reconfigurations of simple materials.

While a didactic lesson in recycling is not the artist’s intention (materials are new, anyway), this work could be read as an unusual example of William McDonough and Michael Braungart’s notion of upcycling in which an object’s future reincarnations experience an increase rather than decrease in value. One commission specific to the ICA space is included, a long wall of gently folded polyester film. Walking beside the work, patterns that suggest strands of wet hair are apparent. When viewed head-on, an expanded kaleidoscope of Boston harbour and brightly painted wood houses appear within each curve of the film. It is difficult to know how long Donovan can sustain her current approach, but this newest piece yet again makes you see the world differently. It may feel obvious, but the outcomes are remarkably powerful.

Crafts Magazine (Jan./Feb. 2009: 73)