Essay by Shannon Garden-Smith for Extensions. Published in Xpace Volume 6
“Chests, especially small caskets…are objects that may be opened. When a casket is closed, it is returned to the general community of objects; it takes place in exterior space.” Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space. 1
For her exhibition, Extensions, Carolyn Code has cement-cast twelve clasped purses into pure exteriority, closing off the possibility of interiority. As indivisible, impenetrable units, the purses withhold the intimacy of the inner compartment: their very fullness barring interior content. Unlike Gaston Bachelard’s chests or caskets, which are hard-edged, stationary vessels tasked with the preservation of valuables, the purse is a more flexible membrane that acts as convoy to an ever-changing miscellany of objects. Purses are implicated in a daily economy of circulation, and are fittingly the storage places of the currency that enables our entry into the marketplace. However, Code’s purses undermine their referent’s characteristic malleability through materiality. As to- scale, earth-bound, solid masses of concrete—playfully resolute in their immobility—the weight of their cement bodies untethers them from mobilized human companionship. Emptied of wallets, change purses, notebooks, keys, pens, snacks, pills, lipsticks, phones or any object they might hold in our daily travels, the bags are further absolved of the human subject. They no longer belong to the individual, and, so, no longer serve as a model for the organization of our inner lives in the way that Bachelard’s “objects that may be opened” do. They are envelopes become content. They are solid surface.
Moored in staggered groupings that eschew a sense of linear arrangement, Code’s sculptures are displayed in a way that is reminiscent of the splayed out contents of a bag accidentally dropped and subsequently nudged into formation. In addition to the purses, Extensions also features a series of abstracted, imagined-tool-forms composed variously of wood, metal, and plastic, nailed to the wall like a Home Hardware tool organization board gone rogue. Code’s vertically suspended hooks, pokers, wires, blades, knobs and scrapers, dangle in a loose cloud formation opposing the thoroughly earth-bound quality of her purse sculptures. Making a similar ascent up the wall are tufted, pale-blue triangular sections of upholstery finished in dark wooden trim. As hostile, pointed structures of upholstery and wood, these works prohibit their expected function as a resting place for the body. Code further distances the human occupant by mounting the upholstery on the wall.
Each series of sculptures in Extensions overturns the objects’ conventional relationship with fixity and transience. Code pushes the form of her sculptures just outside of functionality, so that the objects function in the realm of symbolism. While Code’s purse sculptures have been cast from a variety of molds, the assortment of forms is homogenized by the artist’s standard use of concrete sometimes punctuated with metal chain as a strap. A similar flattening of difference is carried out by the tool sculptures, which formed from a limited range of shared media, appear as variations on one another. The strategy of standardization is further played out in the unvarying use of blue upholstery and in the show’s cluster of brushed metal cans hand-stitched with unifying floral insignia.
Where Code’s concrete handbags are carefully divested of inner space so that they cannot be opened up, the entire conceit of Extensions is premised on a kind of opening up. Extensions reimagines the shelves, drawers, closets, cabinets and other interiorities that constitute storage spaces as, in Code’s words, “accidental cabinets of curiosities”. Here the physical architecture of the cabinet has fallen away, so that the objects begin to drift impossibly across the wall. The garage pegboard has been replaced by the gallery wall and an assortment of objects which have forfeited the intimacy of human contact now belong to the theater of window display. Perhaps we might also conceive of the floating upholstery and tool sculptures—those hooks, chains, blades and points—as the objects that would spill out from the cement and chain purses.
Extensions is keenly interested in exploring economies of valuation, particularly as informed by Michael Thompson’s 1979 Rubbish Theory—an idiosyncratic text that theorizes the process whereby the value of “things” is continually created and destroyed. Thompson presents a conception of cyclic temporality linked to the objects’ fluctuations in value. He posits,
“When we take stock of our world, we are very selective; we only include those items that are of value—anything that has no value is excluded…Those objects that we include fall into two categories: those that increase in value over time (the durable) and those that decrease in value over time (the transient)…A transient object, declining in value, can sink into rubbish and then some later date be discovered by some creative individual and transferred to durability.” 2
Since the deterioration of an object can be tempered by maintenance, the transient object relies upon intervention, notably, as Thompson’s explication of his theory states: “by some creative individual”. Rubbish Theory is premised on the economy of objects, wherein the possession of objects has moral implications for the human owner. Thompson notes, “those who own and control durable objects enjoy more power and prestige than those who live entirely in a world of transience or, worse still, a world of rubbish”.3 If we consider the nature of the storage space from which the objects in this show have been drawn—one where empty cans intermingle with impractical tools and inaccessible bags— Code’s selection of objects, which she recasts in cement, metal, wood and plastic, ostensibly originate from the category of “transient” or “rubbish”. Overturning their inherited constitutions of mobility/immobility through materiality and spatial orientation, Code’s process simultaneously enacts Rubbish Theory’s economy, transferring the objects from the categories of rubbish or transient to durable. The act of creating and reframing these objects as art objects ushers them into a new realm of circulation.
– Shannon Garden-Smith
1 Gaston Bachelard The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. pg. 85.
2 Michael Thompson, “Rubbish Theory: the creation and destruction of value” in Encounter, United Kingdom, 1979. pg. 12.
3 Michael Thompson, “Rubbish Theory: the creation and destruction of value” in Encounter, United Kingdom, 1979. pg. 18
Exhibition review by Sophie Hinton in Queen’s Journal
Artists Amanda White and Carolyn Code re-evaluate modern life with new showings
On display from Oct. 14 until Nov. 25, Infinite Silence by Amanda White and Spill by Carolyn Code are two new exhibits at the Modern Fuel Art Centre that both work to address issues regarding our current way of life.
Displayed in the centre’s Main Gallery, White’s Infinite Silence is comprised of a dome-shaped installation and four framed pictures hung on the opposite wall. The white glowing dome called “A Breathing Room” resembles an igloo but instead of housing people, it contains plants, enough so to maintain someone’s breath over the span of 24 hours.
The dome instillation is extremely small so visitors can enter one at a time. The exhibit comforts you as the smells of dill and sweet florals fills your nose and you can’t help but smile at the thought of eating dill pickle chips. Sitting in that aroma, you feel pleasantly disconnected, as the exhibit offers a quiet refuge from the constant distractions of daily life.
According to her artistic statement on the Modern Fuel website, White’s “A Breathing Room” is “a comment on the troubled ecological times we live in. Emphasizing the importance and the fragility of our most fundamental relationship, it is a reminder that breathing is not a singular act performed by an individual, but one of symbiosis with many participants.”
On the opposite wall of the room, the four framed pictures independently titled “Compositions” features what looks like star constellations but is revealed to be a compilation of plant movement over 46 hours in the sun.
The State of Flux Gallery room holds Carolyn Code’s Spill, an exhibition comprised of four collections that exaggerate the accumulation of material objects that tend to pile up over time in our personal spaces.
Upon entering the room, you’re first confronted by the collection titled “Morph” which displays pieces of a broken mirror on the ground that builds into a complete mirror over the course of four slowly improving stages.
To your left is Code’s piece “Ephemera”,which is a pile of empty charcoal-coloured baskets and containers, suggesting mismanaged overconsumption that remains as empty as the containers.
This leads your eye to the corner piece called “Swell” where white ceramic mugs lay piled on top of an overflowing cabinet. Lines of white string that attaches different mugs together give off a sense of order amongst the ever-continuing pile of mugs.
Turning right once more to Code’s final collection of the exhibit, “Stack,” newspapers are sculpted into a small arch supported by steel rods in the middle of the room. The newspaper arch-stack indicates a renewed life for what we assume to be one time-use objects.
According to her statement, Code is addressing how humans attempt to maintain or create order in the middle of the chaotic collection of material. Within that chaos, she wants to figure out how we give purpose and meaning to these objects that will exist after us. It’s about taking responsibility for our material lives.
While attending the new exhibits, I didn’t fully understand the meaning behind them — until I went outside and sat on the grass by the waterfront.
Away from the exhibit, one begins to consider plants as an essential part of all life here on earth. Without plant life, there would be the anxieties and disorder White and Code create and express in their exhibits.
Their work suggests consumerism is unsustainable and if we don’t change, life on this planet would cease to exist. It’s art with a purpose, drawing attention to the comfortable but ultimately dangerous aspects of contemporary culture.
Curatorial Statement by Hannah Keating for Tangle
An outdoor exhibition of sculpture, animated film, and performance, Between the Lines is a group show that asks three artists to respond to questions posed and opportunities presented my “in-between” spaces. Tangle is an outdoor installation by Carolyn Code. Carolyn has worked with thread in two previous gallery exhibitions to sculpt space into geometric shapes. In both cases, thread pulled tight heightened the works dynamic energy, spanning up and across and behind scenes laden with domestic objects. Here, a thicker, more colourful string becomes the focal point of Tangle in a new exploration of public, outdoor art. Taking advantage of a quiet nook, slightly hidden from bustling downtown streets, Carolyn constructs a feast for the eyes through carefully measured angles and disappearing edges that draw viewers into a cycle that repeatedly returns to a crocheted centre then expands to the full extent of the piece. Nearby, surrounded by public, private, community, and commercial buildings, Jackson Creek passes by the piece as it meanders through downtown. Interwoven with the fabric of the city, it invites contemplation, much like the work itself.