Friday, October 17, 2008

Thierry W. Despont : "Through the Moon Door"

There’s an incredible exhibit at the Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea featuring work by Thierry W. Despont. The show, Through the Moon Door, features sculptures out of found materials (mostly rusted, industrial equipment) to form imaginary animals.

The description makes it sound like those cheesy smiling faces cut out of fruit that people email to each other. Yet what really helps elevate these pieces is the presentation. Hats off to the curator of the show for the beautifully arranged space. Viewers walk into an area reminiscent of the Museum of Natural Science and History. The lighting is dramatic and the figures resemble skeletal samples of mysterious animals.

The artist describes the effect of transporting the viewers to a foreign world that feels ancient and tangible thanks to the worn aesthetic of the materials. The creatures are accentuated by the backdrop of giant planetary paintings. I saw these giant spheres as representations of the moon which can be symbolically linked to transformation, as in a full moon and a were-wolf. In this case, the moon is spurring the metamorphosis of familiar objects such as wrenches and lightbulbs into strange animals.

I have always been fascinated with our ability to interpret and recognize ourselves in other forms. Something in our nature causes us to see ourselves where ever we are. This can be exemplified in the simple smiley emoticon “:)” which contains the least amount of information, two dots and a curved line, and we can easily discern a human face. Even turned sideways, we can still recognize a face.

That was the genius of cubism and abstraction. Before the movement, art was to be as anatomically realistic as possible. But pioneers like Picasso realized you could still convey a subject without relying on meticulous recreation. A few squares and circles could make up a face. In more modern times, cartoons and comics show us that the human form can be abstracted and simplified in countless ways. The Simpsons are radically distorted versions of ourselves yet no one has any trouble reading their faces or interpreting their emotions.

What I found enlightening about Despont’s work is that he has taken our ability to translate the abstraction of forms and use them towards animals. Even though they aren’t humans (or actual animals for that matter) we can see birds, insects and fish. I see eyes, antennae, spines, teeth within these objects and can believe that these could have been living, breathing creatures.

Check out the show and be transported.

Through the Moon Door is on display through November 8.

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