Contributed by Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein / Katie Bell‘s work, comprising scavenged construction debris, skirts the line between sculpture and assemblage. Bell combed Miami for a month to source the materials for “Backsplash,” her most recent solo show, which opened at Locust Projects September 10. Among the must-finds on her list were, as she says, “scraps of drywall, scraps of wood, house paint, and a hot tub.”
The gallery put out a call to its network of members, collectors, and benefactors; Bell began her search as soon as she arrived in Miami. “It was all a little surreal. I was going in fancy homes in gated communities, just to check out their leftover house paint in a closet in the most seamy corner of their house,” said Bell. “Another member of [Locust’s] board builds and owns hotels, so she had a full construction crew, and I got to go look through warehouses full of junk.”
During the two weeks she spent driving all over Miami-Dade County, there were also, she said, “a lot of wild goose chases to meet Craigslist people.” Still, said Bell, “I feel like I got good stuff because I was able to really hold out for certain things. In that way, it ended up being more about the place I made it than other installations I had done.”
What’s gained from her insistence upon the right material is reflected in “Backsplash,” wherein objects are specifically of Miami, yes, but also of the passing moment. The work this consolidates cultural memory.
Bell was especially determined to locate a hot tub. In past works she had used large fragments of a fiberglass Jacuzzi, which seem to conjur a potent evocation of empty bourgeois luxury. For Bell, the tub adds elements of beauty and spatial dynamism to the work as a whole. Many of the tubs she saw failed on both counts, but she finally found one worth salvaging. “After going to look a lot of different hot tubs, some too nasty to even use, the one I found was in a house for sale. It was just trashed like everything else in the house.”
“Backsplash” is divided into two rooms, one a wall installation, the other a sculpture (of sorts). As Bell describes it, the front (installation) room is “like the explosion,” and the back room is “the aftermath.” The “aftermath” is a 24-foot long piece of collected debris on cork flooring. A walkway flanks the long edge of the room, causing the viewer to look at the piece as if it were a stage or natural history museum diorama. This room could be interpreted as a handsome rendering of the future ruins of Miami, but it is still in motion, warning of chaos yet to come. Dowels pierce the walls and jut out at all angles; giant springs abound; a faux-Grecian column tilts without regard for gravity.
The work has an experimental quality, as encouraged by Locust Project. “I’m not sure how to talk about it yet,” Bell said. “There’s something important about composing an image in a painting space, unlike a sculptural space where you walk around it. It was like a dream that happened only in Miami. Now I’m back in Brooklyn, still wondering what happened.”
“Katie Bell: Backsplash.” Locust Projects, Miami, Florida. Through October 8, 2016.