Contributed by Rachel Beach / Sometimes we let the world bury us, if only temporarily. And sometimes we center ourselves, tighten our core, and lift. After a year (or four) that no one could fathom, the onset of spring in New York City coupled with a whiplash vaccine rollout has brought cave-dwellers out into the streets, blinking with a mix of joy and terror into the sunny void that is our future. With remarkable prescience, sculptor Inna Babaeva grabs this pivotal opportunity and invites us into her world, giving us the space to reflect on what is and reconsider what might be. With simple materials animated by an intelligent hand, Babaeva’s new work proposes something open and airy, full of possibility, if we’re willing to meet the challenge.
In her previous show, “Word of Mouth,” at Essex Flowers last September, red and blue glass balls floated and bobbed, perpetually adrift in white five-gallon buckets – perhaps an ode to a restless America, staying-in-place and moving in tight circles in a news cycle bumping into itself, with tensions building and prompting us to hold our breath. Everything felt compressed. An accompanying video of shoreline with the red and blue balls dancing freely in the white surf hit like a vision of the future, a reminder to keep breathing.
Her recent show at Underdonk, “This Time Tomorrow,” threw open a window on the stifling present, filling the room with light and life. Pinks glass balls punctuated a milk-crate skyline, evoking the feeling of a stylish social gathering that you have the good fortune of being invited to. But after lingering longer and a more complicated story unfolded. The immaculate tableaux, composed of an exquisite mix of hand-crafted glass and mass-produced crates, started to dissolve into a series of quagmires. The objects nervously clung to the wall, impossible to view in the round, some groupings elegant but insecure and others graceless but full of confidence. Some stood above or apart while others were pressed into service or generously offered themselves up. Metal clips, vaguely scientific, pinned glowing pink bubbles in place. Broken pomegranates, the fruit of temptation and still-life stalwart, slowly rotted and were diligently replaced. It was as if to say: we are hopeful and wanting but full of dread; there is injustice and there is hope; we are trying.
Babaeva’s ability to muster the full scope of our humanity – with equal parts calculated awkwardness and focused virtuosity, optimism and conflict, beauty and threat – out of a jumble of milk crates and glass balls seemed like something akin to an incantation. It is with meticulous care, and a discerning yet idiosyncratic eye, that Babaeva puts her materials to work. The years of practicing her craft have crystallized into a beautiful and resounding question mark, filling the room with a complicated truth. As we emerge into a new post-everything paradigm, like so many delicate crocuses from the dirt, we have much to reconcile. Questions and answers cannot be neatly paired. Sometimes we don’t know where to look. But sometimes we do. It’s a propitious moment for an artist to hit her stride.
“Inna Babaeva: This Time Tomorrow,” Underdonk, Ridgewood, NY. March 20 – April 11, 2021.
About the author: Rachel Beach is a Brooklyn-based artist. Her work has been widely exhibited and has received numerous awards, including a National Academy Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome, a Pollock-Krasner grant and residencies at Yaddo, LMCC and Sharpe-Walentas. Her background in architecture, anthropology, and painting inform her sculptural work.