A startling achromatism characterizes Daniella Dooling’s second solo at Michael Steinberg, “The Silver Locusts.” Through a blanketing yet incomprehensibly profound haze of whiteness appear clear plastic folds cascading from the ceiling like great synthetic waterfalls, their singed, floor-hugging ends belying the initial impression of pristine everyday materials. Silvery white animals – mostly human-like or closely associated with humans, like dogs and baboons – hang uneasily about on the floor, walls, and ceiling, staked to the spot by wire rods attached to their limbs. Ordinary clear or aluminum pushpins decorate their bodies and/or adorn adjacent walls in intricate patterns reminiscent of soap bubbles or lace.
Dooling, whose work has some affinities with Michael Joo’s, has transformed the gallery into an entrancing, almost lunar landscape that questions the legacy of the monochrome. As a radical strategy of the historical avant-garde, the monochrome has been used to signify the dawning of a spiritual new age, wiping-as it were- the methodological slate clean. Here, however, this legacy is discarded and the monochrome itself tainted by these translucent animals with near-watery eyes suspended between images of newborn life and animal-rights documentation of medical research and cosmetic testing. The sleek, futuristic creations, though furless and bloodless, nonetheless managed to attract empathy. Monochrome the exhibition may be, but abstract it is not.
The emotion that Dooling’s environment mostly inspires is a mixture of intrigue and repulsion. This is an otherworldly realm of both extreme formal beauty and undreamed-of suffering. The pushpins that create such lovely patterns on the walls become instruments of torture when pressed into bodies, isolating the figures in their pain. Even the patterns so formed on the animal hides invoke the appearance of molting skin, literally pinning them to their surroundings. These animals, like the ones whose face is all too human, are aesthetically pleasing, their puppet-like wires and strings suggesting an artfully staged play. And yet these same connecting rods render them immobile. By this simple device, Dooling transforms “hung” artworks into taxidermy specimens. Such heuristic mechanisms entice viewers to look closely, examining what lies beneath every epidermal layer or fold of plastic, even though the cowering or agonized subjects refuse all dispassionate scrutiny.
In a side room, we see a litter of tiny beasties nursing the only creatures in the show that are not tethered or tied down. Perhaps Dooling intends them as a respite of hope, somehow cordoned off for contemplation or to protect their privacy, but her exhibition title suggests otherwise. “The Silver Locusts” invokes a Biblical plague yet to be unleashed, one so far borne by our nearest neighbors on the evolutionary tree. A plague may be coming, it suggests, one in all likelihood of our own making.
“Daniella Dooling” by Helena Winston, Michael Steinberg Fine Art, New York, NY
January 11 – February 9, 2008artUS, Issue 22, Spring 2008