Time, Space and Place: The Assemblages of Kate Carvellas
through March 9
Gabba Gallery, Los Angeles
Time: (def) indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present and future regarded as a whole.
Written by Nancy Kay Turner
In the aptly titled Time, Space and Place, Kate Carvellas mines our collective existential memory, our emotional attachment to physical objects and our fear of death in her small but potent low-relief wall sculptures. There are two distinct bodies of work here. Ten pieces are housed in wooden boxes, while the second body of work is on wood panels painted white.
All are beautifully crafted, with the series in wooden boxes creating mystical worlds – for the most part within its borders. Like all assemblage, the meaning emerges from the materials, which are gleaned from non-traditional sources – thrift stores, flea markets, basements and attics. Time has weathered, broken and rendered useless these objects or fragments of objects. Each piece is unmoored from its original function until reclaimed by the artist.
All assemblage owes a debt to the Surrealists and the Dadaists, who championed accident and chance as a way to access our subconscious and who believed in the poetry of unusual juxtapositions. Carvellas finds existing boxes, some shallow, some deep, or stacks small boxes of various sizes to house her mysterious universe.
In “Origins,” the wood box looks like it was meant to contain treasures. Here the top opens like a door into a secret universe. Situated in the left (or what was once the top) are several objects placed on a partly obscured map. A key hangs on a string next to a warped, rusted doorplate, with its lock gone and screws missing. It is severed from its original purpose, which was to provide safety, security and privacy. Removed from its purpose, it is an abject object. Its proximity to the key only highlights its ultimate emptiness. In the bottom piece of the box is a rusted hammerhead, now separated from its handle, looking more like a modern sculptural object than an ordinary tool. It is resting on a child’s block, which has the word “wicked” embossed on its side. Is it wicked that we must age, grow out of our toys and eventually abandon our possessions?
The sense of travel, movement and cycles is implicit in many pieces or explicit, as in “A Singular Journey.” Housed in a sliding, impeccably crafted tongue and groove box, it has a worn leather, gold embossed book cover (dated 1914) which reads “Tales of a Traveller, ” affixed on the outside sliding panel. There is something tomb-like about this coffin-shaped box, as if the panel were about to close before being buried or hidden. Inside the inner chamber is a silver pear-shaped object—perhaps the stand-in for the body or a religious offering in this reliquary. Structurally spare and geometric, it is subdued in color except for red numbered blocks and a red circular button.
Carvellas has a personal lexicon of objects that point to measurements such as vintage tape measures (flexible) and old school wooden rulers (rigid). Perhaps she is suggesting that none of us is “measuring up?” Children’s numbered blocks, spherical numbered Bingo balls and chess pieces are a constant in these works reiterating the luck of the draw, randomness and chance in this journey that is our life. After all, we don’t get to pick our parents, our circumstances, our race or our location, which permanently colors our existence.
“Any Way You Slice It” is dazzling mixture of funky elements arranged with great wit and elegance. The main discolored oblong wooden structure is an ancient shredder (the actual label from the thrift store is attached and reads “Vintage Vegetable Slicer 1898”. The rusted teeth of the shredder are forever glued together, ruined by time and the elements. A glass bottle is filled with mysterious white balls. Is this medicine or ancient petrified wood? Is this a foreshadowing of death? Because any way you slice it, Carvellis seems to indicate, we all are alone. We journey alone and we all have a finite time here in this place called earth.
In “Passage Through Time,” the elements gathered here speak to the delivery of messages (via air mail) through both space and time. The central piece is a vintage measuring tool that resembles both forceps and a uterus containing in its grip two dozen egg-shaped, numbered bingo balls. Reminds me of another kind of delivery, as birth is a passage through time as well.
“Branching Out” is one of the two transition pieces in the show that has elements of both the assemblages in wooden boxes and the newer works that introduce bright plastic Lego pieces on painted surfaces. Perhaps the witty title is an allusion to the artist moving out of her accustomed way of working with assemblage and into the world of mixed –media. Like so many of Carvellas’s work, there is an implicit grid seamlessly holding the disparate elements in place. It is a mixture of the natural world (a real twig) mixing with unnatural, and manufactured plastic Lego. One will degrade and the one will not.
The other transition piece is entitled “There’s a Rhyme and a Reason” and combines wooden strips, brightly painted canvas, jarringly bright plastic Legos, and found wooden and metal objects. Larger and louder than the other pieces it seems like an adolescent. Not quite sure of itself. Carvellas is clearly in a place of restless new exploration and one looks forward to seeing the development of this new body of work from this very fine artist.