Thursday, September 7, 2006 to Saturday, October 7, 2006

    • Thursday, September 7, 2006
    In her exhibition Ten Small Quarrels, Karina Kalvaitis has fashioned stage sets to stand in as abandoned habitats, which appear as points of recent departure for mysterious creatures. Faint indentations in opulent but impractical surroundings are the only traces of their residency. The work itself seems to pin this exodus on the conceptual architect of these dioramas, hopelessly out of touch with the real needs of the former inhabitants— and questions fundamental ideas of what constitutes a home versus what constitutes a cage (or a stage). Kalvaitis’ oeuvre circles around the tragedy of misperception and the prison of misguided assumptions—however well intentioned— in which desires remain frustrated and needs misread and unmet. These sculptures betray a discernible delicacy of obviously hand worked labour, but the results of this labour are deliberately self-referential, products of faulty comprehension rather than any kind of democratic process or reliable information. In the quarrel Plainsong, a bird’s nest, with all its obvious and loaded connotations of nurture and respite, is placed on a gaily painted platform below an oddly configured staircase, surrounded by embellished banners providing neither privacy nor information. The idea of “nesting” invokes a covert comfort that is antithetical to the public spectacle. One can just imagine the wary, weary creature that lives there, shuffling off to its domicile as if to the guillotine. Kalvaitis has long been fascinated by the sites of circus and nursery as areas of vulnerability and menace—fertile ground for the development and exploration of the fantastic. These places share a propensity for forced gaiety, both visual and emotional. The cotton candy colours and organza divert and obscure the neediness and stench that lie beyond the lullabies and sad clowns: there is calculation and artifice to be found in the aesthetics of both. What seems inoffensive and reassuring in these highly charged but proscribed environments can appear tragic and faintly ridiculous beyond them. The quarrels have something of a board game and dollhouse about them, with little heraldic flags flying proudly and permanently aloft. Sometimes their bases, which sit atop whimsically constructed freestanding tables, contain obtuse markings. What they indicate, we do not know, but can perhaps imagine. Are the players willing or unwilling (or unwitting) participants? Most ominously, we wonder, who exactly is the master of the game? The scale of Kalvaitis’ sculptures is also important. They are, to the viewer, toy-sized, and would not seem out of place in a playroom. Despite the resolute dysfunction of these habitats, it’s impossible to ascribe any real malice to them. The artist has called this work “an extension of a frustrated desire to care for something other than ourselves.” The landscape of the installation is powered by a child-like intensity and hope, but speaks of adult subtleties— allure and abandonment, disappointment and missed opportunities—in a world both diaphanous and perplexing. Deborah de Boer, writer