Walking into Ogden Contemporary Arts (OCA) your eyes immediately turn to a large piece at the center of the room. Detailed floral designs wrap and bend, creating pieces of furniture. The top of a chair sticks out at the viewer, its legs disappearing into the solo standing wall. Lamps and light fixtures hang around the chair and even travel onto the floor in front of the piece. Black and white, muted green, and light pink floral designed wallpaper creates circular patterns that ebb and flow across the work. Walking around the wall the viewer is met by a deep black work — an extension of the piece on the other side, the legs of the chair jut out, and charred tree branches circle them. While the other side of the work seems to be teeming with life, this side of deep black feels as though it has been burnt to a crisp. The two sides of Elizabeth Alexander’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful” work together in creating an unsettling atmosphere.
On a larger scale, Elizabeth Alexander’s exhibit, Objects of Desire, comes together with Kasey Lou Lindley’s Future Gardens to form a single show under the banner of Ideal Home — an exhibition curated by Kelly Carper to discuss the perceptions that surround both the interior and exterior of the ideal American home. On the bottom floor of OCA, Objects of Desire explores if/how the idyllic American home that holds trauma, stress, chronic pain, and mental illness can still hold love and joy. To achieve this, Alexander uses past household symbols of success such as wallpaper and porcelain ware to create items of chaotic beauty that disrupt the peaceful harmony associated with the ideal home. Lindley’s Future Gardens deals with the exterior and can be seen on the upper level of the museum. In this body of work, Lindley addresses society’s obsession with manicured lawns, their indication of success and wealth, and a shift to conserve water in the current drought conditions of the west. Using watercolor, digital collages, and video installations, Lindley takes inspiration from drought-tolerant foliage. These plants mark the hope for a brighter future of landscapes that can support the health of our planet and its many ecosystems. Lindley invites her viewers to ask the question, “What can humans do to be more responsible stewards of our local landscapes and earthly home?”
Though physically separated, the two shows intermingle in both an ideological sense and through sound. One of Lindley’s works, “Future Gardens,” is a video installation, an immersive work cast on all four walls of one of the upstairs rooms and features images of spring blossoms and drought-tolerant foliage. These images shift and change, creating organic shapes that present different plants. The video is accompanied by three sounds that play throughout the film, Lindley humming a song, children laughing while playing at a sound garden, and the sound of flowing water from the 2022 Drought Response Operations Project, which released 500,000 acre-feet of water from the Flaming Gorge, flowing through the Green River to fill Lake Powell. These sounds, particularly Lindley’s humming, pour from the room and flow down the stairs to fill the bottom gallery. The humming lends an almost ethereal, dystopian feel to Alexander’s works while simultaneously enticing the viewer to follow the sound upstairs to view Future Gardens. The effect not only unifies the works but also successfully creates a new space, perhaps even a liminal space in between our current perceptions of ideal American homes and the future of how these spaces may change. The space turns into one of distortion and dysfunctional beauty that encourages contemplation and action.
Dysfunctional beauty is seen in many of the works, including Elizabeth Alexander’s “Heirloom” series. This work consists of porcelain and bone china that Alexander has hand-cut and often re-shaped. Porcelain, once a symbol of success, has now found itself occupying second-hand shops. Alexander cuts the images of beauty and color out of the tableware, leaving behind the plain cream-colored and making the objects unusable for their intended purpose. The objects appear delicate with strangely shaped holes taking up most of the surface area. Perhaps Alexander does this to invite viewers to consider what happens to these objects once stripped of their beautiful designs. How does the purpose of the tableware change? What beauty, if any, do they still hold? Once removed from the ideals what are we left with?
Lindley also explores a kind of dysfunctional beauty in “Decoloniality.” On the surface, this work is beautiful, a collage of flowers and greenery set against a stark white background while thick white organic shapes flow over the tops of the foliage. The flowers seen in the work were picked by Lindley and her daughter while on a walk. Among the flowers are dandelions. Often considered no more than a weed in our day, the dandelion was originally brought by European settlers in the 1600s and used as a food source and for medicinal purposes. Lindley likens this fall from grace from useful flower to weed to decolonization, which questions the perceived universality of Western knowledge and its culture. The white shapes laid over the flowers are meant to fragment the image and speak to the disconnect between humans and the natural works that stem from colonialism.
Alexander’s dysfunctional beauty appears both literally in objects that can no longer be used for their intended purpose and in striving to explore the pain and joy that co-exists in the home. Lindley’s works comment on the future of a dysfunctional world if humans do not make changes to understand and support the natural world around us. Both artists’ works are visually stunning. Lindley’s are full of bright colors and organic shapes while Alexander’s works are intensely detailed and complex. The show is expertly displayed by OCA and will leave its viewers ready to question their own perceptions of the idyllic American home with passion and rejuvenation.
Ideal Home, Ogden Contemporary Arts, Ogden, through Oct. 16