Tropical Depression is a collaborative work by Laura Hart Newlon and Kate O’Neill. It is also the title of the group exhibition at LVL3 that features their work, and the work of Kate Ruggeri and Nicholas Rummler. With such an enticing show title, I was excited to read the curatorial statement. Though disappointed by the generic text on the press release, I was not disappointed by the show.*
Newlon and O’Neill’s works anchor the exhibition with their multi-media exploration of leisure, filtered through a thorough examination of rattan furniture. They produced a publication that cleverly poses as an early twentieth century furniture catalogue – it relays the romance of the tropics, and the promise of rattan to transport its buyers to the “Far East”. Flipping through the catalogue, images of furniture are interspersed with tropical plant patterns, advertisements, photographs of rattan harvesting and furniture production in Malaysia, and a few process shots from Newlon and O’Neill’s furniture production. Rattan stands in as a symbol of leisure for the two artists, and their works in the show, and its title, capture its various associations, and reveal the darker side of rattan as a symbol of imperialism and the unfulfilled promise of leisure.
The two artists primarily conduct their investigation through the Papasan chair – a ubiquitous (and comically cumbersome) dorm room centerpiece. They present it in its romantic glory, superimposed on a tropical print upholstery backdrop, and translate it into the materials of contemporary beach culture – neon rubber. For the show, Newlon and O’Neill made a bright orange, languid, rubber cast of a Papasan chair that slumps in the corner of the gallery.
Rummler and Ruggeri’s works were integrated in the space with the tropical explorations, and though tangentially tied to the collaborative works, do find some material and thematic overlaps. Ruggeri’s works, Basket Painting (Orange), 2013 and Shield, 2013, are both made from discarded and painted wicker, have a nice material dialogue with the rattan pieces. Rummler’s Earthquake, 2014, similarly drew me in with its textured foam board surface painted in a silvery grey. A small window cutout in the frame reveals a glimpse of a found black and white photograph that, influenced by the work’s title, depicts an abstracted view of some sort of ruin. In the context of the show, it evokes the tropical storms that afflict coastal tourist destinations.
The work in the exhibition is strong and well balanced, and its installation uncovers formally complementary ties between the pieces. However, its introductory text, the statement on the press release, not only under-emphasized the work in the show, but was incongruous with its title and left me, at least, wanting to know more about it.
*The press release states: Tropical Depression comes together as a result of our partnership with the ACRE residency program. This group show features artists Kate Ruggieri, Nicholas Rummler, and a collaboration between Laura Hart Newlon and Kate O’Neill. Tropical Depression encompasses both the calm and cluttered aspects of these artists’ approaches to creating while tackling new artistic exploration.