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If the vessel is traditionally ceramic’s primary form, Sharon Engelstein’s solo exhibition at Wilding Cran dislocates the material from its expected physical manifestation. Elevated and staggered on an imposing horizontal plinth, her glazed ceramic sculptures mimic the bone-white, pristine finish of porcelain, yet also possess a quiet heft that subtly reveals the dexterously hewn, hand-wrought process of their making. Bulbous, angular, and intimately-scaled, these paradoxically static yet undulating objects fold into puddles of matter, and ultimately shed categorization as vessels by functioning as solidified, amorphous containers for their own formal logic.
As sculptures, they propose an archeology of the absurd, which offers beguiling visual riddles, as if Engelstein has anointed the viewer a sleuth tasked to decipher all plausible permutations of an unknown organism. These petrified, formless amoebas resemble corporeal orifices, deep-sea membranes, and, in the case of First Find (2016), a prostrate and partially melted Venus of Willendorf, buttressed by slabs of broken concrete. Oftentimes, the sterility of the sculptures’ white finish is punctured by translucent glazes of bright color: in Leg Foot (2017), a subtle drip recalls the prismatic glint of an oil slick; in Accidental Medicine (2016), a wound of pink recalls the flesh of the interior body.
While bodily references viscerally permeate all of these sculptures, Engelstein nonetheless manages a deception of scale that upends the human body as a reference point. Just as the plinth-based sculptures—elevated to the height of the viewer’s torso—appear organ-like, they nonetheless read as shrunken cartographies for other monumental, unknown structures. By transmuting these myriad references into mercurial spectrums of scale and matter, Engelstein folds the futuristic into the archeological, and the microscopic into the monumental—a fluid addendum to ceramic’s indexical, seemingly fixed material history.
Sharon Engelstein: Ever to Find runs January 25-March 19, 2017 at Wilding Cran (939 S. Santa Fe Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90021).