Chris Natrop: Silver Sun Supernova
Long-term site-specific installation at Cooper Design Space, DTLA
By Shana Nys Dambrot
Chris Natrop is not a sculptor, or a painter, not really. But he works in both large-scale quasi-sculptural installation and conventional wall-framed idioms, often using paint in addition to lighting, video, and audio elements to augment his knife-cut paper-based works. He brings all of these aspects of his practice to bear on his latest architecturally responsive installation, the breezy, cathedral-like Silver Sun Supernova on long-term view at the historic Art Deco landmark Cooper Design Space in Downtown LA. Natrop makes full use of the lofty ceilings and other extant building flourishes to launch a sprawling, unfurling cascade of deftly detailed cut paper festooned with sprays of paint and glitter, animated by changing colored lights and ruffled by occasional breezes. Building from filigree tendrils nearest the entrance and building to a crescendo at the far end clerestory, the overall effect evokes the approach toward a rosette window behind an altar. This effect is heightened by the framed works occupying the walls between hefty columns that march toward the back, and by the high-polish ornamental floor pattern, itself a work of drama finesse drafted into service of the overall picture.
Yet despite the richness of detail, the motif is not overwhelming, in fact it is rather reserved. The space is a wave of whites; the framed works are ghostly, like snow drifts with hints of color that softly reappear in the larger pieces. A range of green and blue and warmer jewel-tones is both opalescent and hushed, so that the drama unfolds in a kind of stage whisper that is both striking and atmospheric, operatic and esoteric, hard to ignore but even harder to get a firm grip on in its fullness. The projected video elements change both shape and color and cast a flurry of shadows, creating silhouettes in apparent motion, mirrored by an ambient soundtrack that signals to the brain the soft entrance into a separate realm, nestled inside the expected one.
In many ways, Natrop’s practice is even better suited to non-traditional sites like Cooper’s public entrance than to white box galleries; as the circumstances of their unique etant-donnes provide context for his interventions in terms of history and function as well as structural features to play against. That said, his framed works offer self-contained gem-like moments which while isolated from his immersive environmental visions, express intimate articulations of his studio process, up-close looks at his way of wielding a knife like a drafting tool, and imparting a sense of his impressive dexterity and ability to create expressive mark-making gestures by unconventional means. Viewing them in this elegantly conceived proximity to a particularly lovely example of his installation work is a satisfying experience on all levels, and proof that the most interesting artistic expressions can happen in the last ways — and places — you’d ever expect.