Sheila Pepe’s installation and drawings explore urban superstructures
Artist Sheila Pepe, who also writes art criticism for venues including Gay City News, focuses as much on the physicality of her materials as on the spaces that she defines in her room-filling installation at Susan Inglett Gallery, “Bridge and Tunnel.”
The matte fiber of her knotted shoelaces, their plasticized tips looking for all the world like beard stubble, work as counterpoint to powdered black industrial rubber bands and crocheted acrylic yarns. Her ceiling-focused work envisions a rope bridge collapsing out from the center of the room, reaching out in three directions to the walls of the gallery.
Airy and open, this stop-action vision gains both metaphoric and actual tension from rubber bands straining for support from the off-center structural pillar and walls of the gallery. Radiant purple laces and black banding drop down into a bristly testicle, then angle off into seven stringy stick legs that drop to the floor in echo of Eve Hesse’s late work. Another leg shoots off toward a more open working of strapping, secured to the walls with bolts and steel grips, which entangle knotted red shoelaces and pink yarn to redefine the windowed corner of the gallery in a rather drunken spider web.
Moving out on a tangent, Pepe also presents six finished drawings. Restricting her color to ink black, paper white, and either red or purple, the sheets are irregularly shaped patchwork rectangles where the focus is on the invention of line and the depth of overlapping spaces. Like a book entitled “Under the City” or “Superstructures Revealed” recognizable elements such as subways, water towers, and bridge and building supports are all open and layered over in a crazy quilt fashion.
While Pepe attempts to bring her spatial concerns under her sway in the installation, she undercuts herself by the display of her drawings in the same space. The drawings exist in a very different reality (2-D, prim, safe behind frame and glass) as things; the pillar and walls of the gallery get more attention and have more interaction with the artist’s installation than the drawings do. Pepe is clearly able to work her elements: she easily balances the slightly predatory aspect of the more clotted zones of her sculpture with the cool knotted, crocheted openwork spaces of the gallery.
But, I remain skeptical about the intentions of the overall installation of the drawings in the gallery and the way they tend to break up her site-specific work into a reading of parts. Everything counts in installation work. If your piece is attached to the wall by big rubber bands and metal hinges, how is that understood in relationship to two drawings behind glass not more than three feet away?