Kristen Mills: Plausible hope

Kristen Mills, installation view

Contributed by Zach Seeger / Kristen Mills’s “Believability” is a richly constructed, well-meaning, humorous-but-not installation of videos, sculpted environments, and cacophonous formal musings on the difficulty of personal and professional perseverance in an uncertain time.

Just prior to our current collective crises came a burgeoning Chicago Imagist-inspired painting moment, formal and figurative, that seemed a reaction to Zombie Formalism’s cynical shrug towards skill and heart. This reboot of modernism, distinguished by appropriation and opportunism, has attracted a wave of talented artists with chops on full display. “Believability” ushers it firmly into the present moment of singular inexactitude and corruption with defiantly well-made, meticulously presented work that implicitly exalts artistic optimism through assured precision and technical polish.

Kristen Mills, installation view

The exhibition is in the main space at Ortega y Gasset Projects. With a yard sale sign, indoor/outdoor rug, cardboard-cutout sculptures, a chandelier, and palettes for TV stands, Mills explores familiar anti-classist, anti-misogynistic themes by way of installations that conjure the feel of a museum storage unit. Think Shana Moulton’s Picture Puzzle Pattern Door at San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2015, or Lynda Benglis’s retrospective at The New Museum in 2011. The exhibition is not overtly searching for answers, or self-consciously criticizing culture, but simply stating “here I am, this is what I do.”

Kristen Mills, installation view
Kristen Mills, installation view

What she does is funny and visually acute. The installations are cast as a sort of crossroads: to the right is the junk destined for storage (maybe she’ll have some use for it), and to the left are the finely honed trophies alongside frivolous videos documenting the day-to-day ambient clutter that makes her who she is in relation to everyone else – just like you. Mills’s work is crafted with care and skill but also personal and interpersonal awareness. Through her cardboard constructions, assemblage trees, found objects, and photo-shopped slideshows, she leaves no empathetic stone unturned. The videos are especially humanistic, recognizing the pathetic toil of Zoom meetings, importuning artists trying to capture the attention of anyone willing to pay it, and the shared destruction of the planet. At the same time, she can’t help but poke fun at how absurd the present existential circumstances are for artists who are making work that deserves to be noticed (cue Alanis Morissette).

Kristen Mills, installation view
Kristen Mills, installation view

“Believability” evokes a sincere postmodernism with a seamlessly curated, non-hierarchical flow of references and likes. Without excessive despair, not unlike a child gripping an old toy determined to save it from the Salvation Army, Mills celebrates the grim vocation of artists: we must hold on to our own reality and meaning even under the weight of an oppressive social and political narrative. As the show’s title suggests, her hope is at least plausible.

Kristen MIlls: Believability,” Ortega y Gasset Projects, 63 3rd Ave., Brooklyn, NY. Through October 11, 2020.

Related posts:
Jude Tallichet’s sense of the ineffable
Laurel Farrin’s comedy of errors
Matt Bollinger’s fictional universe
Speculating on Andy Boot and Zombie Formalism

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