Brightness and darkness

Leah Piepgras’s intriguing “¡SuperVision!” at GRIN
By GREG COOK  |  June 25, 2014

 0627_Art_Cloud_top.jpg
UNNATURAL NATURE Pipegras's 'Cloud Mantle/Cloud Vision.'

Leah Piepgras’s cool “¡SuperVision!” show at GRIN (60 Valley St, Providence, through July 12) invites you into a happy sci-fi world of sunny fluorescent hues and disco twinkles.

Constellations of mirror ball clouds dangle from the ceiling on pink cords at the center of the room and slowly rotate and sparkle. You’re invited to peer though weird, lumpy crystal-telescope-things. They frame bits of art across the room — a painting of a naked dude standing atop a big boulder in a green wilderness, or Cloud Mantle/Cloud Vision, a lumpy, oozy pink sculpture with a bunch of smaller clouds mushrooming up on top. The thing looks to be made of spray insulation foam and dangles from the ceiling by a string. Like many of the sculptures here, it feels like an endearingly inadequate attempt to recreate nature.

Installed in a corner is Limen, a silvery bubbly cloud that dangles silver mylar streamers like rain. The whole thing slowly rises and falls, pulled up by a machine on the ceiling, to cover and reveal a yellow-blue crystal-y thing hidden underneath its mirrory tresses.

The Massachusetts artist shifted to these cloud motifs around 2008, after about a decade of performances and making objects with a Kiki Smith vibe that probed the meanings of love and lust within relationships like marriage. She and a guy spent a week in 1995 wearing a wedding dress and tuxedo; she hand-printed bed sheets with cross-sections of penises, uteruses, and fallopian tubes. Around 2010, for Girl With a Pearl Necklace, she cast an elegant silver blob pendant that is “actually an accurate representation of semen.”

This show feels less personal and intimate and heavy and more like a dazzling bubbly adventure. The sculptures have a contemporary artificially-flavored style that perhaps troubles all the cheery brightness. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but they’re rough recreations of nature assembled from the seductive synthetic materials — Styrofoam and spray foam and resin and glitter—that in real life are polluting our world.

Piepgras’s subject seems more to be the tension between seductive rainbow-brightness and psychological darkness. A dark blue slab — like a big puddle that’s congealed into a tabletop — lurks ominously on the floor beneath those disco balls. If you look under the dangling sculpture Cloud Mantle/I Am Darkness Inside, you find the off-white popcorn-y mound has a deep blue cavern hidden within.

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