BY Carmine Iannaccone in Reviews | 11 NOV 01
Featured in
Issue 63

Annetta Kapon

Armstrong Schoenheit, Los Angeles, USA

BY Carmine Iannaccone in Reviews | 11 NOV 01

Annetta Kapon makes art the way other people play chess. On the one hand eminently logical and deliberate, her sculpture also embraces the sense of play one experiences as the participant in a game. It can be fun and amusing, but only insofar as it engages a strategic balance of power that isn't always benign.

All the work in this survey exhibition addresses domesticity in one way or another, but not as subject matter. For Kapon the home is a giant game-board upon which she plots her moves - sometimes quite literally. In a group of pieces entitled Floor Show (1999) the artist took sections of hardwood flooring and cut them into irregular ovals resembling cross-sections of a tree trunk, complete with the outer ring of bark. The work seems to suggest that at the heart of every raw, untamed thing that we suppose to be beyond the legislation of our domestic games lies a core of orderliness and familiarity against which we calibrate.

This is Kapon's hallmark and often lends her work the feeling of an epithet: part good observation, part over-simplification. But if her sculpture is like a series of visual soundbites, it also flaunts the fact defiantly and defends it as a viable strategy, claiming an advantage for the flurry of quick, stabbing moves over the prolonged hammerlock on a viewer's attention. Whatever interpretation one attributes to something like those domesticated tree trunks will seem like a reading that you can quickly get. But it's the very quickness of that reading that keeps the larger meanings fugitive. You get bits, which are meaningful insofar as they belong to a bigger programme, but you never get the entire file.

In Kapon's best work sudden inversions and sly substitutions are both enjoyable and enervating precisely because of their lightness and facility, with an end effect that falls somewhere between a Freudian slip and an intelligent prank. In the centre of the gallery, for example, it's entirely possible to overlook what are probably the wittiest pieces in the show: two woven waste baskets from 1990 where the rattan has been seamlessly and surreptitiously replaced with audio tape in one case, and 16 mm film in the other. The latter is particularly amusing as it forces you to stick your head in the garbage can to squint at the sketchy scenarios unfolding on its surface. In Ford Mustang (1996) what looks like an over-sized glass bowl is actually formed from the crumpled windscreen of a car. Humour is salted with the menace of that which escapes the rules of civilized play.

But chaos finds its way into the work from the other direction as well, through an overdose of order. Where rational control becomes too dominant, the imagination responds with phantasmagoria, like the insect faces one might discern in Guise (2000) or Scheme (1999). As it turns out, these geometric abstractions rendered in wood are actually duplicates of the polystyrene packaging that accompanies household appliances such as microwaves and VCRs. The stuff meant to hold material goods in place, in other words, dislodges mental baggage instead and causes unwanted information to leak out at the edges.

Another artist could give similar material a much darker spin. Kapon's restraint only underscores the earnest subtext of her work - feminism in particular - by giving it a cagey elusiveness. Rather than address head-on the gender-based balance of power that the household has historically represented, she mimics a classic female strategy for survival there: outwit your male adversary by quietly deflating his pretensions without his even knowing it. Four recent large works on paper target the predominantly masculine prerogatives of Modernism in just that way. They include two beach chairs, a shopping basket and a roll-away bed, all in the process of being folded flat for storage. The Modernist's high-falutin' concern with pictorial flatness and the rule of the grid is recast as simply another way of saving space. Any stay-at-home mom knows about that: it's just good housekeeping.