Kyla Hansen at Five Car Garage
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
Not long ago, a friend and I visited Five Car Garage, an appointment-only art project space in Santa Monica. Following the enigmatic instructions, we parked on a quiet residential street, walked down a steep hill and found ourselves in a tidy, upscale alley. Immediately to our left was a large, well-lit garage that opened up to the encroaching dusk. We were warmly greeted by Emma Gray, the woman behind Five Car Garage who helpfully guided us around Kyla Hansen’s show, Rib Mountain, currently on view through November 2nd. The delight of finding a gallery in such an unassuming location coupled with a personal tour most likely added to my receptiveness towards Hansen’s art, but this show stands very ably on its own merits.
At the entrance, an étagère with faux geodes immediately signals that you are not in Los Angeles anymore. Like Rib Mountain, for which the show is named and where it is said that Paul Bunyan is buried, you are in a place that requires some imagination. And like the hill that is glorified in Wisconsin folklore, Hansen elevates things that are modest and quite commonplace. Instead of the remains of the fabled lumberjack, the installation provides a look into the remnants of the desert with a poignancy borne from the artist’s attachment to the Western landscape. Hansen grew up in Nevada and went to undergraduate school there before earning her MFA from Claremont Graduate University. The desert seeps in through the evocation of rock shops, dusty thrift stores and landscapes littered with discarded objects.
In contrast to the intentional haphazard quality of some of the sculptures, Hansen’s quilts are deliberate, vibrant and stunning; Tonite Not Tonite, Cave Bacon, and Jumping Cholla are all strong, geometric works in the vein of Gee’s Bend quilts. A pillow that belonged to the artist’s aunt inspired Tonite Not Tonite. The two titular sentiments, one on each side of the pillow, were meant to indicate the prevailing mood; by simply turning the pillow over, you could announce your intentions without saying a word. Hansen spells out her message literally with type and also figuratively with a sexually suggestive centerpiece composed of pants book matched like a veneer or slab of marble. Did I mention that it is funny? It is.
Cave Bacon, is a smaller quilt, named for a rock formation that mimics the striations of, you guessed it, bacon. Hansen paints onto the fabric creating the layered, striped look while maintaining the graphic clarity of the type, reminding me of a more secular Corita Kent.
Standing away from the walls, geodes of various sizes and colors line the shelves while another one occupies a sink on the floor. In the backroom they sit on stools and simple pedestals. Made from paper mache, foam, bondo, lace, tape, resin, pigment glitter and paint, the rocks are luminous but at the same time, decidedly funky. The way in which Hansen combines construction materials and decorative elements is humorous and challenges the way nature has been traditionally represented. Although the materials are transformed quite believably into geodes, they are not so completely transformed as to lose the identity of the materials; lace still reads as lace and newspapers are the stuff of paper mache. Other freestanding sculptures mix desert plant forms with incongruous objects in a sort of Seussian mash-up. It is Hansen’s sly humor, her skill with materials and flair for juxtaposition that makes her show well worth the trip to Five Car Garage.
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