To Tara Donovan, the materials of everyday life are rarely limited to their initial purpose—once they enter her studio in Long Island City, Queens, she’s likely to give them new meaning. Pins, buttons, and straws are among the many entities in her repertoire, but for an installation at the Armory Show—in the Platform section on Pier 94—she turned to plastic tubing.
“For me, it’s never been packaging,” Donovan said of the material most conventionally used for shipping. “It becomes a three-dimensional drawing object.”
Taking the form of a diagonally sloping 33-square-foot work that ranges in height from two inches to eight feet, Donovan’s new Untitled will give the viewer an opportunity to tower over or be enveloped by plastic cylinders—depending on where one stands. Donovan said she purposefully constructed the work so that it went above the viewer’s head—such that he or she could “be in the depth.” And by densely layering the material, the artist was able to reshape the graphic underpinnings of previous works like Untitled (Pins), from 2003, expressing them as a three-dimensional spread.
“The idea of creating a landscape within architecture has always been interesting to me,” Donovan said. “This piece becomes the architecture—it’s not just behaving within an architectural space, it makes the architecture.”
Under the Armory’s sprawling ceilings, Untitled will be shaped in part by its reception—how viewers perceive a work that Donovan called site-responsive. Then comes another element of the work: how light articulates the details. “Without light, it’s just a bunch of tubes,” Donovan said. “But what happens is the tube encapsulates the light—it reflects off of the base and then it shoots back up. This would look very different if it was on a gray floor.”
Looking over the top of the installation, series of spiral shadows seem to float over the clean-cut tubes—an intriguing visual element that came about during the artist’s experimentation with the packaging material over the past year and a half. “When you accumulate a lot of transparent material, it tends to cast what I like to call a fugitive color,” she said. With a closer look at the taller sections, hues shift from pale yellows and greens to purples and grays, and tonal changes correspond to differences in the tubes’ size.
Donovan said she hopes the work occasions a bit of serenity. “One thing that tends to be lacking in the art world is a bit of quiet,” she said. “It’s nice to see something [at the Armory] that’s transcendent.”