Alaska, by Justin Kidd and Jeffry Mitchell is a low-budget theme park which uses Styrofoam, mirrored Plexiglas, and polyester batting to simulate a stage-set version of an icy wonderland.
Alaska makes no attempt at realism: there are no mosquitoes or forests; the penguins belong, as any know-it-all third grader can tell you, at the SOUTH pole, not the north. Despite air conditioning, on a sunny summer day Diverseworks isn’t that cold. Nevertheless, Alaska‘s mishmash of snow and ice imagery makes it an entertaining break from the heat outside.
The show’s strength is a versatile and inventive use of materials. Sheets of Styrofoam become a lattice of awkward snow crystals, a pond of jagged ice floes floating on the blue-ish concrete floor, rows of drippy icicles, and chunky snow blocks for the igloo. Mirrored Plexiglas lines the walls, expanding the space with wavy reflections of itself as strings of paper snowflakes cascade from the ceiling.
Like prospectors in the Yukon gold rush, the show’s seven pieces strike out in different directions, but only some of their claims pan out. Starflyer and the mini-oilrig in Wave after Wave accentuate the trashiness of Styrofoam. Starflyer is a giant, flimsy child’s sled, slapped together for a Christmas toy display and junked at New Year’s. The oilrig uses clumsy ad-hoc construction as a metaphor for dirty technology. The oilrig’s cluttered superstructure seems a violation of the surrounding smooth Styrofoam waves. Flaky Grid is the best piece in the show; clunky and funky enough to be funny, it’s still delicate and somehow sublime, when that blue spotlight hits it just right.
Almost seriously beautiful next to Flaky Grid, White Shower strings hundreds of paper snowflakes in floor to ceiling cloud. In the two back corners of the gallery, Ice Flow and Flurry stretch to create compelling dioramas with too little material. In Ice Flow, two silly penguins (The Deserters) stand on slabs of foam like Eliza crossing the ice in the Thai version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin as seen in The King and I. Flurry is a mirrored environment more like a boudoir than Alaska, with baroque scrollwork in spattered plaster and foam; the theme becomes blurred as snow sculpture is confabulated with cake decoration.
The interior of Igloo, the show’s centerpiece, is an insulated TV lounge. The creation of insulated, video enhanced lounging spaces is au courant: I’ve lost count of how many claustrophobic nooks featuring pillows, shredded paper, mood lighting, and hypnotic video I’ve sat in since 1995, but Igloo is saved from ultra-hipness by attention to detail. Inside a foam igloo, of course there’s a foam sofa, foam bureau and foam coffee table, but there’s more: a white doily, a white rug, a white lamp, a tiny white TV shows static ‘snow.” A box of wintry Altoids, a white Tiki statue, and a copy of Inside The White Cube: the Ideology of the Gallery Space by Brian O”Dougherty carry the joke that critical extra step. This remaking of the everyday world is the most Justin Kidd-ish bit of the show, and the most fun.
All images courtesy the artists DiverseWorks.
Bill Davenport is an artist and writer and was one of the first contributors to Glasstire.
also by Bill Davenport
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