01 Tara Donovan, Untitled (Paper Plates), 2003, Glue, paper plates, 107 x 122 x 274cm 02 Tara Donovan, Untitled, 2003, Styrofoam cups, Hot Glue, 305 x 2012 x 975cm
Digging deeper into her practice of systematic accumulation of individual
commercial-industrial materials to form a greater whole, we find that Donovan
often titles her works to alert us to phenomena more resonant of the 'natural'
world than that of New York City. Ripple(1998) sees sections of wire formed
at floor level into concentric circles animated by their rhythmic arrangement
and enlivened by the name given to them.Haze(2003) too, provides a poet
ic introduction to two million plastic drinking straws. Hazeactivates associ
ations far beyond the banality and disposability of the individual artifacts,
conjuring misty, oscillating, elegant peaks to heights of four metres.
While space, time and atmospherics (not least her choice of wall, floor or
ceiling) are key to what Donovan terms her 'site-responsive' (not site-specific)
practice, ultimately it is the material properties of the objects with which she works
that inform the development of her work. Plastic cups stack and diffuse light,
prompting a certain kind of manipulation; paper plates are scalloped at their
edges, and that again seems to whisper a system of making to Donovan; tar paper
tears beautifully and its edges insist on a certain style of re-formation. Donovan is
conscious that Western consumerism is now so all-encompassing that its limitless
offerings of materiality and endless considerations of value in mass-production are
no longer enough for contemporary art discourse. Rather, she focuses on recon
figuring the pathetic icons of post-industrial, uber-commercial mayhem as poetic
and seductive experiences within selected spaces and for particular periods of
time. By drawing our attention from the multiple objects, and signposting the craft
of her activity, Donovan by-passes the purely conceptual to engage wholly –
though still coolly – with materiality, perception, resonance and experience.
Returning to the honeycomb, the concertina, the orbs and bulbs, the pleated
translucence and the pale ethereality of Donovan's works, it seems right to read
them through refreshed eyes. To avoid yawn-inducing first thoughts and engage
with the sensitive and confident practice of a woman attuned to the natural world
and cognizant that New York City is as much a part of nature as hives and hills.
This work intelligently converses with the minutiae of its components but
raises the eye to wider horizons. It reminds us of the interconnectedness of
pattern, form and structure from the organic cell, the chemical molecule, the
digital pixel upwards through transformative thought and action into realms of
personal expression. It articulates a common Western understanding of our
relationships with things and our search for harmonious aesthetics that are
meaningful to our daily experience of them.••• Catherine Harper
Tara Donovan at the Met, new work conceived specifically for this exhibition,
until April 27, 2008, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue at
82nd Street, New York, T: (+)212 535 7710, www.metmuseum.org.