Styrofoam sorcery

By GREG COOK  |  October 22, 2008

But it doesn’t achieve the how-did-she-do-that wonder of the pin and the toothpick cubes, or Haze (2005), her best piece here. The title is apt: it’s hard to see the thing, which seems to shift and flicker like vapor. It wasn’t until I got close that I was able to detect its material: thousands of translucent plastic drinking straws cut to different lengths and filling an entire wall. (Earlier incarnations were held in place by gravity, but here caulking at the back anchors the straws.) Donovan’s isolation of single materials limits her color palette. Much of her work features various tones of plastic — and it’s a bit unsettling to observe that as she builds it up in ever greater numbers, it goes from translucent or frosty white to buttery to oily brown.

As you walk past Haze (2005), as your eyes catch different straws, lumps and fissures appear, and the piece shimmers like dragon skin. You witness Donovan’s mix of hard-turned-soft, of solid-turned-vaporous, of gravity, fragility, mystery, sleight-of-hand, uncertainty, stillness. It is a strange and marvelous alchemy.

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