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There’s an odd wooden profile in Debra Scacco’s current exhibition, The Narrows, at Klowden Mann: five geometric shapes come together to form a softly misshapen profile of a human head. The piece, Puzzle for the Feebleminded (2017), we learn from the press release, is a larger replica of a jigsaw puzzle given to immigrants at Ellis Island—those who couldn’t configure the contours of an apparently melted head were sent along for further mental testing.
We are thus introduced to Scacco’s subject: immigration, or rather immigrants. The exhibition is dominated by two works: Architecture of Separation (2018), a precise spatial assemblage of small weights and fishing line, each layer stepped and receding up and away; and the titular work (2017-18), a series of 29 small wall-mounted pieces of mirror and glass on teak shelving.
In the latter, each glass pane is covered in scribbly lines and tilted against a mirrored backing. The drawings on glass recall waves and water, appropriate—if on the nose—given the title reference to the tidal strait acting as a gateway between the Atlantic Ocean and an immigrant’s fate at Ellis Island. Scacco’s marks, small squiggles that build into larger shapes, nearly recall scrawled lettering, leaving one to search in vain in the myriad reflections for never-written text. The drawings, barely larger than a sheet of paper, transpose the tumultuous journey of immigration into a kind of regular, or average, maritime din.
Scacco’s work is quiet, often one-to-one, and of a scale that is docile and precise where its subject is turbulent and multifaceted. The press release details some of Scacco’s numerology—the three sections of Architecture of Separation mimic the three aisles of a stairway through which immigrants were processed, detained, or returned. Scacco’s “stairs” are transparent, receding perspectivally into a corner of the gallery—more formality than fate. Her formal vocabulary, when measured against her concepts is similarly transparent, a one-to-one mix often idle rather than transformative.
Debra Scacco: The Narrows runs January 13–February 17, 2018 at Klowden Mann (6023 Washington Blvd., Culver City, CA 90232).