BAWAG Contemporary, Vienna, Austria
In her sculptures and installations, Luisa Kasalicky exploits our natural inclination to try to make sense of things. Since much of her raw material comes from hardware stores, its easy to see these objects all judiciously amputated so as to be still recognizable as clues, if not invitations to explain, rationalize or try to understand. But the works reveal few extra hints; personal stories and experiences may serve as starting points but do not necessarily show in the final results. Kasalickys approach quickly exposes our naivety about mechanisms and our desire to see causal relationships where there may be none. Like when she trims foam pads, slathers plaster over them and then mounts them on the wall as soft, jagged frames (Untitled, 2011). Or when she takes the green loden coats typically worn by hunters in Austria, stretches the material over unmounted doors and then hangs the doors on the wall to look like panels from an altarpiece (en suite, 2011).
Kasalicky recombines elements from everyday interiors homes, stores, offices in a jarring and sometimes funny way. Because of our familiarity with such elements, the works resonate with potential narratives and play on the psychological qualities of the materials, which take on an abstract quality in their cropped and recombined forms. What kind of story might we tell about the hunting coats, stretched like hides or upholstery? Perhaps the key lies in the pockets: Their original white contrast stitching remains visible so that the coat can be identified but little else.
en suite also served as the title for the exhibition and aptly describes the gallery interior: a succession of rooms only accessible through one another. (This layout, which afforded little privacy, was common before the invention of the corridor in the late 17th century.) Specific compositions and sculptures all part of the ‘en suite’ series (all 2011) coaxed forth and reshaped the gallery into yet another succession of spaces. The artist set up a fort-like division with a destroyed red brick wall, added benches to a corner to add a new turn and created the illusion of stars in a black sky by punching out tar paper and hanging it to cover the entire height of the wall drawing the viewers eyes upwards to the colourful ceramic tiles that are a permanent feature of the gallery ceiling.
A push-pull relationship between representation and abstraction has long preoccupied Kasalicky, who began as a painter and still identifies painting as her starting point, although her work in the last years has increasingly moved off the wall and into the room. Until recently her materials of choice were industrial elements and her aesthetics were those of the 1960s and 1970s. Replacing them with todays home improvement products renders Kasalickys compositions much more spatially oriented. That so many of her materials — brass pipes, rain gutters, Spackle, belts worn by construction workers — also allude to manual labour further points to their inherent design intelligence and history: the knowledge residing in the objects that most of us capitalize on everyday, blithely unaware. At the same time, these objects highlight the very information about our environment that we try to minimize but which influences us nonetheless. Brass water pipes are usually exiled behind walls, but what would we do without the water they circulate?
Also on show was a series of Surrealist-like drawings (Requisitendepot, Stage Prop Depot, 2009—10), which might serve to decode Kasalickys use of materials further. The drawings are based on Jean Epsteins film La chute de la maison Usher (The Fall of the House of Usher, 1928), loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s eponymous short story, written in 1839. (Luis Buñuel, one of many Surrealists drawn to Poe’s Gothic tales, also worked on the film.) Strong tones of the mystical and the occult pervade the movie, which is set in the haunted house of a nobleman who buries his twin sister alive. He lives amid his ancestors treasures, both weird and campy (a Baroque fireplace with a swans neck, armour and paintings of family tombstones). Its about as far away as you can get from the materials on sale in the bright aisles of hardware stores and countless other cheery DIY stores the world over, but reality could turn into dark theatre at any time. These ready-to-use items could possess their own sentience.
First published in Issue 1