On view at Galerie Lelong were a multitude of sculptures by the ever voluptuously incessant Petah Coyne. I was not familiar with her work before this show and although I was initially dismissive and unresponsive to these black and red faux roses engulfing taxidermy birds spiraling up down and across ever expanding and elongating forms, I’ve come to appreciate their intricacy and intimacy after some further reading and research.
Untitled #1180 (Beatrice), 2003-2008, 136 x 116 x 104 in, silk flowers, wax cast statuary, taxidermy animals, taxidermy birds, thread, silk/rayon velvet, felt, tree branches, tree bark, driftwood, specially formulated wax, pearl-headed hat pins, black spray paint, pigment, plywood, wood, metal hardware, chicken wire fencing, wire, cable, cable bolts (whew!)
I think of Louis Bourgeois’ spider cages and the Blob when I see these works, their undulating, spiraling, suffocating tentacles reaching out to swallow. The suggestive hyperactivity is completely frozen in time and we are witness to this twilight zone moment of deathly consumption as it happens. The flowers, feathers and dead animals combine to bring in elements of victorian romanticism, a nostalgic looking back in the hay days of exaggerated emotional outbreak and prescribed melancholy. As you can see in the specs of the image above, she uses a wide range of unconventional materials and uses them with intricate obsession and laborious precision. This process of repetition and continuance was enough to win me over. Their bleak blackness was also a winning factor, it put a brash in your face punch into something could have easily been pure unadulterated kitsch.
Cerberus, 2008, dimensions variable, mummified dog, mummified toads, dried snake, wasp nest, mummified mouse, dried insects, hedgehog spikes, plant galls, bladderwort (yuck!)
Where Petah Coyne portrays the abstract and personal in death and decay, Tessa Farmer provides a narrative that reflects human behavior in general, reflected through the invasive and terrorizing minuscule skeletal fairy demons. Her intricate sculptures and stop animation videos at Spencer Brownstone also uses dead and preserved animals with the same tone of apocalypse and corruption but without the sentimental sulking and goopy baggage.
I was thoroughly grossed out and fascinated by her use of insects of all shapes and sizes, not to mention mummified dogs and rats, but the near gagging and goosebumps did not keep me from appreciating the entomological precision and her ability to turn what would be a purely mundane scientific practice/hobby into an incisive and truth telling narrative about birth, invasion, death and suffering, elements purely animal, therefore human by default. The two videos told the story of the birth of evil fairy skeletons the size of a fingernail and their mission to conquer and destroy, an animated version of the sculptures on view. It’s a bit of a one-liner but I can definitely appreciate these works for their grappling entertainment and intricate materialization.