Lisa Lapinski’s installation at Kristina Kite consisted of nine artworks arranged around a spacious, high-ceilinged room. Though formally spare, it was conceptually dense. Drawing on ideas from children’s stories and games, Shaker craftsmanship, Minimalist sculpture, and even spatial theory, Lapinski fashioned a taut if droll feminist realm that centered on two impish characters—Little My Chair, a cartoon figure in the form of a painted children’s chair, and Geometric Holly Hobby, who was not directly depicted but represented by a series of sculptural bows. The various works were arranged in such a way that they resembled game pieces of sorts. Whether the game was friendly or cutthroat remained ambiguous.
Little My is a character from lesbian Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson’s 1940s stories about the Moomins, a family of hippopotamus-like creatures. A forthright friend of the Moomins, she does what she wants and speaks her mind. Modern feminist theorists have speculated that the author, who lived at a time when homosexuality was still criminalized in her country, channeled something of herself into Little My.
Lapinski’s chair incarnation of Little My features an elliptical hole in place of the character’s usual sneering mug. The artist used the void to hang Little My Chair on an oversize Shaker pegboard that spanned three of the gallery’s walls. Hung high on the remaining wall, a neon rainbow sign shone behind a hand-caned screen. The physical layering of Little My and Shaker craft prompted the viewer to see similarities between the utopian community and Jansson’s fictional world. Both, in their own way, were feminist. The Shakers practiced near total gender equality, and the Moomin milieu is populated with strong female characters.
The bow sculptures were arranged throughout the gallery. In their angular, articulated quality (their form was borrowed from a quilting pattern), they recalled pixelated figures from 1980s arcade games. They were presented as belonging to Geometric Holly Hobby, who first appeared in a wallpaper painting Lapinski made in 2011 and who is based on the wholesome, prairie dress–wearing, bonnet-clad girl that American illustrator Holly Hobbie developed in the 1960s and named after herself. A passage in the press release conveys bits of Geometric Holly Hobby’s precocious persona. She feels an affinity for the sculptor Tony Smith, particularly his theory that sculptures might be the negative presence in solid space. Her bows, which speak to a humorous misunderstanding of Smith’s ideas, have a slightly menacing presence, with their pointed parts evoking fangs, horns, and claws.
A cluster of irregular, bulbous ceramic works based on soccer-goalie agility-training balls and resembling rounded jacks further emphasized the installation’s gamelike quality. That it was difficult to separate or reconcile the notions of competition and play in the show seemed to be Lapinski’s point. Today, because of pioneers like Jansson and the feminists of the 1960s and ’70s, young women live in a more equitable world. But, given the continuing gender pay gap, persistent efforts to block full reproductive rights, and other ongoing injustices, they may also feel like pawns in a cruel game.