There are no people, but large structures of organized objects. If you blur your eyes, they look like inflated trash compact cubes. If you focus your eyes, you see details.
A dollhouse, with a red roof. Maybe there are doll people inside.
Plastic chests of drawers, white and translucent, the kind you can store makeup in.
Something that looks like Christmas decorations, gold and slightly gaudy.
A lamp shade.
A teddy bear.
A woman in a neutral colored trench coat comes to stand in front of the cubes—so still she begins to blend into the scene. More join her, one by one, with long pauses between them, giving the updated image time to sink deep into the back of the brain. They create a three-dimensional tableau, these people and this wall of things. Crouching, standing next to, investigating, or facing away, investigating something not contained on a shelf. My eyes scan and hold their place on one person, then back to a person I was looking at before, and I notice that her hand has moved slightly. I didn’t see the path it took, it was so slow it could have been mistaken for time travel.
Alice Gosti, the artist behind Material Deviance in Contemporary American Culture, calls herself an “architect of experiences.” She seeks to connect her work to the public in visceral ways, and has created site-specific pieces in places such as Seattle’s Waterfront, Cal Anderson Park, and St. Mark’s Cathedral. However, while watching her latest work in On the Boards’ theater, there is still a closeness, a sense that you belong there, watching. Within a grand scale, she creates tiny, intimate moments. Dancer Kaitlin McCarthy passes through an imaginary room. She opens an imaginary door, hangs an imaginary coat on an imaginary coat rack, sits in an imaginary chair, opens an imaginary window, and leaves the room out another imaginary side door. She repeats this passing several times, each time the room getting smaller, until the actions live only inside her wrists and fingers, under her concentrated shoulders. Transfixing the viewer with her Alice-In-Wonderland-like journey, the surrounding monoliths fade into the backdrop.
Gosti’s superb cast work together fearlessly, and present to the viewer exactly what they’re meant to see. There are no hidden agendas, no room for any performative veneer – only true storytelling. They sit down to a plastic fold-out table and chairs, setting them up with clinical precision, only to smear pages of coupons over the grey surface. They cut, highlight, and rip the pages with a percussive cadence that makes the mundane activity almost ceremonious. Gosti expertly explores our relationships to objects from all angles – how we acquire them, use them, and especially feelings attached to them.
Scattered throughout MDICAC are playful vignettes focusing in on one object in particular. Alyza DelPan-Monley curiously holds a tape measure up to her ear and pulls the tape out like a magician’s ribbon. It’s clear there is a profound respect of the strip’s ability to measure space, but a lovely defiance when she swipes it back and forth like a rhythmic gymnast. In a different moment, Imana Gunawan hooks empty bags of all different sizes on her arms, carrying nothing and everything simultaneously. They dangle and move with her, the raw weight of them begging to be important, but her face remains serene and steady. It seems as though Gosti seeks to metaphorically create an exchange between the viewer and their possessions, and asks them to question the possibility of whether we really “own” anything.
Finally, the gargantuan monoliths get their moment in the spotlight, the rolling structures up until now mostly operating as a moving set. Lorraine Lau enters in a wispy pink dress, like a fairy come to bring them to life. Her arms make romantic gestures, her neck elongates toward them as they move to and fro, as if on their own. Each shelved object lends itself to the mysterious movement, an entire life lived within each piece, and an entire future ahead.
Material Deviance in Contemporary American Culture was performed at On The Boards on March 29th-April 1st, 2018. See more information on the work here.