In past years, Nathaniel Robinson created stand-alone sculptural objects such as an untitled polyurethane-resin version of a Styrofoam cup (2009) that was a dead ringer for the original, down to the teeth marks bitten into its rim. In his last solo show at Feature, “Civil Twilight” (2009), he incorporated these “real”-looking objects into larger mise-en-scènes, in which viewers encountered, among other things, the basin of a massive fountain (138 inches in diameter) hung upside down from the ceiling, and thousands of delicate maple-seed pods (made of cast green-pigmented resin) scattered about the floor. More recently, “Outer Air,” his most ambitious show to date, engaged the entire space of the gallery, transforming it through elements both found and fabricated that were at once familiar and disconcertingly out of place. Part stage set, part ontological exercise, the show begged us to ask such basic questions as “How did I get here?” and, perhaps more compellingly, “Just who am I in relation to what I see before me?”
The whole floor of the gallery was taken up by a 2-inch-high wooden platform covered with gray roofing panels. In one corner of the platform sat a large formica-and-wood kitchen sink unit that the artist found, open where its cabinetry ought to be and painted blue. At the room’s other end was a kind of bed structure, placed on its side, and a new screen door was installed nearby in a specially built wall, sealing off the office area. In the middle of the room, a rectangular swath of tan carpeting was laid on top of the roofing material, and at its center was a shallow, circular depression filled with water. Slowly, inexorably, the water seeped into the carpet over the course of the show. You were welcome to wander all about: inspect the cabinetry, “test” the water with your toe; but chances are you would want to step lightly. Scattered everywhere about the room was faux shit that the artist painstakingly cast from the droppings of four different species of animaldeer, wildcat, coyote and mouse.
Robinson, 32, is, according to the gallery, something of a philosophical autodidact—in phenomenology, and the nature of perception in particular. But someone ought to add esthetics—especially the investigation of beauty and harmony—to the list. After one looked for a while at the scene, many lovely formal rhythms and tactile surfaces revealed themselves. There was a pleasing palette formed by the sky blue color of the cabinetry, the pastel lavender of the screen-door frame, the tan of the carpet and the gray of the roofing. Marked by an irregular notch, the carpeting echoed a subtle, similar element in the gallery—an empty spot where the wall meets the radiator. The roofing gravel “crunched” pleasantly and somewhat transgressively underfoot. (How often do you get to walk on a roof?) The extra door muffled sounds from the office, contributing to the overall sense of quiet—profound, meditative—that pervaded the space.
Every element in “Outer Air” seemed to have been given a great deal of thought and been placed in its spot quite precisely, though according to what logic, we ultimately couldn’t say. “Why this quotidian object here,” one wondered, “and why alter it this way?” Scanning our own memory banks for answers, while standing on someone else’s roof, and some animal’s shit, had the effect of transporting us to a place somewhere between reality and dreams.
PHOTO: View of Nathaniel Robinson’s exhibition “Outer Air,” 2013; at Feature.