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Allyson Vieira

By Johanna Fateman

May 2017

Allyson Vieira

Klaus von Nichtssagend/Company Gallery

In her two concurrent gallery exhibitions, sculptor Allyson Vieira leveraged the kind of aghast grief induced by images of whale autopsies—when we’re shown the colorful array of plastic bags cut from their stomachs—with a dose of the approving wonder inspired in us by straw-into-gold recycling feats. There’s a sober classicism to her strange urns and square, tapestry-like works made from postconsumer waste, as well as an efficient, impersonal quality to their mysterious serial production. These qualities fend off the threat of discordant wackiness that often curses such found-material endeavors, and Vieira achieves an unsettling, un-gimmicky elegance with her environments of plastic overload.

At Klaus von Nichtssagend, you had to crouch down, as if entering a cave, to investigate the objects assembled in two lines down the length of the narrow front room. Baggy black construction-site safety netting made a shadowy low ceiling over the wastepaper basket-size, melted-plastic containers on the ground. Each of the fourteen pieces in this ongoing body of work, which the artist began this year, is titled Vessel, and boasts a unique shape and mottled surface, like worn glaze, formed from layers of the deathly bags, heated and stretched in to uneven webs. Rough and irregular, the objects have an aura of earthly, excavated ancientness despite their unmistakably synthetic character. And though they appear rudimentary at first, details reveal their clever sophistication. Some balance ingeniously, despite their top-heavy or hourglass asymmetry; another has curiously dainty decorative handles. “A Pot to Piss In,” as the show is titled, is what you don’t have, according to the saying, when you’re desperately poor, maybe itinerant, so probably these aren’t meant for pee. It’s easy to imagine the catastrophic eventuality that would give rise to these impoverished liquid-bearing things as rain collectors, more so than chamber pots, for the global exodus to higher ground.

In contrast, for “Disinherited,” at Company Gallery, you stood, uncramped, in a kind of airy tent to view works hung on the walls, through windows Vieira had cut into white netting. Dissolved, molded, Styrofoam and resin encase printed shipping bags in these bubbly, warped slabs of collaged promotional text. Like her speculative utilitarian vessels, these graceful compositions made from repeated words culled from sheaves of identical bags, or collections of similar ones, suggest a make-do scenario of future scarcity. I Thank You Thank, 2017, is a messy Mondrian of the word THANK in a handful of cheerful colors and typefaces; in More Have Less Pay, also from this year, lines of gold MORE radiate from black and blue circles of HAVE, and a solid aquamarine bag bursts from one corner like a flare. Such painterly moments are used judiciously for maximum visual effect, and to remind us that, though the artist has pointedly accumulated and fossilized them here, each individual bag is but a wisp.

Fellow artist Josh Kline, in a text accompanying the exhibition, writes of the omnipresent bags’ disposability as a metaphor, their un-biodegradable endurance as a “memorial in reverse” honoring the precarious, global super majority of “human lives spent building and maintaining this world while receiving greasy toxic trash, poorly made consumer goods, and alternative facts in return.” But Vieira, of course, did not simply assemble a monumental cross section of the infinite castoffs: She made stuff from them. Her work evokes a not-so-distant culture that celebrates—or, at least, accepts—thrown-away plastic as a new natural resource, something to be harvested from oceans and mined from landfills in order to make or have anything at all.