Torbjörn Vejvi is one of a group of young LA-based sculptors including Jason Meadows, Liz Craft, Evan Holloway, and others known for their explorations into two-dimensional representation and exuberantly three-dimensional abstraction. They share an interest in the physics of object making, and manage to meld principles from science and mathematics with imagery of personal significance, creating playful, mysterious hybrids. Vejvi's work is unique in its ability to contain within its elegant and innovative constructions an almost paranormal reservoir of exquisitely measured feeling that simultaneously appears to dictate the form of each sculpture, and haunt its confines in an almost helpless way.
Vejvi's variously sized and shaped sculptures seem to have been built as memorials to some excited, possibly profound, and now questionable brainstorm he had in his youth. The works are pointedly handmade, yet for all the feckless, art-class orientation of their materials - foamboard, felt-tip pens, Masonite, vinyl film, raw lumber - they are almost mystifyingly serene, as though half-tinkered, half-meditated into their final forms. Often hollow, it's in their power to make you think about their volume, less as empty cubes and rectangles than as compartments for some missing physiological engine. They use their identity as sculpture the way poetry uses language and punctuation, so that even lowly nails, screws, and brackets make slight but fundamental contributions to the work's mesmerising mix of innocence and erudition. It's a quality that makes you ache to learn what kind of flawless, lost answers would cause the artist to pose such beautifully unanswerable questions.
Puddle (all works 2000), the largest piece in the show, consists of two upright Masonite panels, shaped to resemble generic collections of rainwater. Fastened back to back at a distance just wide enough for an average body to squeeze through, they are glossy white and hold carefully simplified drawings of a solitary young man. In one image, the figure, cut off at a point just below the hips, appears to be looking at his reflection in the puddle. In the other, the same figure, this time cut off above the waist, seems to be standing in the same puddle. Or rather, that would be the impression were the puddles lying flat on the floor. But in Vejvi's dislocation, that natural and immediate conclusion can only be reached, if at all, through a complex, unfolding optical illusion that fractures the viewer's point of view into a number of implausible possibilities: am I immersed in the puddle; levitated above it; invisible? Is the young man real, a mirage, a metaphor, me? Adding to this disorientation is the work's exacting collaboration between its two mediums and a third reference point, whereby the sculpture becomes a frame and support for the drawing, whose lines and perspective complete the abstract composition of the sculpture. Both mediums substantiate a feeling that the work could be the backyard plaything of an unusually cerebral and lonesome child.
A House is not a Home is similarly multifaceted, although in this case the sculpture is in collusion with found photographs and etchings, and presented in the guise of a simple architectural model. Vejvi has panelled sections of the wooden model's walls with colour photocopies of pages from an old magazine that juxtapose sometimes banal, sometimes dizzying photographs of forests, fields, and ocean cliffs with engravings depicting historical, possibly mythical, trappers and explorers. The work's exterior suggests a dated display module removed from the tourist information centre of some national park, while the interior, like Puddle's scaffolding, is not quite as utilitarian as it first appears. For the interior of the panel is affixed with green and orange vinyl sheets, whose shininess, symmetrical arrangement and almost subliminal relationship to certain discolourations in the photocopies cause them to interact as obliquely as the aligned canvases of Ellsworth Kelly or Brice Marden. At the same time, the sculpture is a small dream house, and the discomfortingly bright, overly aestheticised interior and plaintive exterior convey the artist's profound alienation from the pretensions inherent in his craft, while suggesting that a surrender of creativity to the unsurpassable beauty of nature offers no real alternative.
Even in Vejvi's more modest works there is grace, wit and evidence of original thinking. For example a green and white floor piece, Stadium #3, is simultaneously a miniature, mis-painted tennis court with accompanying grandstands, and a horizontal abstract work on paper with corresponding frame, while Boutique is a wall-mounted cardboard box tiled with an intricate, hyper-Mondrian-like composition that turns contemporary design's usurpation of high Modernist motifs back on itself. With most first shows, you usually hope for surprise, a modicum of skill, and ideas clever enough to freshen the experience of gallery hopping. Vejvi has not only exceeded those expectations, but confounded them as well. By giving sculpture not only such subtle, seductive new shapes, but also the ability to exude and inspire pure, unironic feeling, he has accomplished something so rare that it's difficult to think of recent precedents.
First published in Issue 54