In ‘Plane of Scattered Pasts’ at Upfor Gallery in Portland, Oregon, artists Heidi Schwegler and Quayola explore object histories and the fragmentation process with sculptural works and video. Schwegler amends, recasts, and highlights aged objects to reframe their value. Quayola’s video piece ‘Strata #1’ (2008) invigorates the exhibition with immersive sound and vivid colour. While the show focuses on the fragmented form, ‘Plane of Scattered Pasts’ is conceptually complete.
Upon entry, the exhibition feels spare, with small sculptural objects spread throughout the minimalist gallery space. As the viewer explores the works, details begin to emerge—a far corner is scattered with tiny sterling silver ants; a pair of disembodied concrete feet rest on the floor. Schwegler’s works are largely neutral in colour. References to the temporal like mucus, flowers, and lambs suggest the possibility of an object’s organic life and death. The artist’s two-headed porcelain lambs conjure youth and innocence, while ‘Transmission Event’ (2018), a flower sculpture rendered in dark glass, feels weighted with age. Decay is displayed on a spectrum in Schwegler’s works; it can be subtle or unmistakable.
Quayola’s ‘Strata #1’ is hypnotic, with constantly fluctuating visuals and tinkling sounds audible from any position in the gallery. The video focuses on a 17th century ceiling fresco by Giovani Battista Gaulli. Sharp abstract shapes stack over the fresco in shifting patterns and interrupt the historical framework of the piece. The term strata refers to layers of rock; in ‘Strata #1’, Quayola layers allusions to two different eras in order to create a fresh composition. Illustrating the opposing forces of old and new, Quayola intentionally contorts the “perfection” of the original fresco. The piece highlights the uneasy yet engrossing experience of aging—the fresco’s transformation depicts an unavoidable loss of control.
The idiosyncratic humour of Schwegler’s works paired with Quayola’s bright sensibility in ‘Strata #1’ creates a subtly surreal gallery environment. In ‘The End of Ideas’ (2019), Schwegler recreates an ancient sculpture of a satyr playing the flute, a piece from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection. In her version, the glass satyr is noseless and in place of a flute, a gold drinking straw is embedded in a support beam across from him. Pieces like ‘Candidate’ (2019), a fractured plastic planter that becomes crown-like when covered in gold leaf, and ‘Angelus Novus’ (2019), a photo diptych of a damaged dog toy, are given equal consideration as the historically significant satyr piece. The objects are balanced not in spite of their relationship to decay, but due to it.
The craftsmanship in ‘Plane of Scattered Pasts’ is strong; both Schwegler and Quayola demonstrate a clear confidence in their respective mediums. Although ‘Strata #1’ creates a pleasant feeling of sensory immersion, the video’s placement alongside Schwegler’s works feels tonally overwhelming, bordering satirical. Both artists communicate playfully, but given the gravity of their subject matter, there are moments when the viewer may question that approach. Perhaps it speaks to the aging process itself, which can be both gloomy and pleasurable. After all, decay is inevitable; one may as well find a way to enjoy it.