Rio Gallery’s current exhibition pairs the work of Dalila Sanabria and Fiona Matisse Barney, artists who through their sculptural, video and photographic practices investigate the amorphous notion of “comfort” in everyday life. A current BFA student at Brigham Young University, Barney experiments with whimsy and imaginative illustrations, while Sanabria, a 2019 BFA graduate from BYU, investigates the tactility of transforming “ordinary” materials in a high sculptural form. Their dual show, Comforting Discomfort, on view through March 6, explores sentiments of tension and unease through the use of unusual materials and “characters” from the artistic imagination.
Sanabria’s sculptures utilize found materials including cardboard, drywall, a couch frame, boxes, and a table. The objects are covered in plaster or other uncharacteristic materials, yet all the objects evoke some semblance of domesticity. Post-modernist sculpture brought forth the revolutionary idea that sculpture can be anything but pristine. In its utterly unruly design, a sculpture could hang, droop, or fall on the ground, unapologetically interrupting the pathway of visitors. Sanabria’s work similarly disrupts the “traditional” mode of interacting with sculpture. One large-scale piece is propped up against the wall rather than hanging on it, while others blur the once orderly boundaries separating viewers from the gallery space as a whole. Art bent on physically disrupting the free flow of traffic in a gallery space cajoles new ways of seeing. In their disorderly nature, her works attempt to address “the concept of a home and changed circumstances … [which] mirror her interest in the relationship between preservation and entropy,” according to the show’s press release.
Barney’s work is a whimsical investigation into sentiments of isolation and discomfort. In a series of related video and photo works, a human parades around a neighborhood in an insect costume. In another series of photographs, a figure draped in a pink sheet sits in an outdoor area and poses along a residential street. Other photographs depict an errant cloth-covered tree branch artificially re-connected to its source. As per the show’s press release, Barney “relishes in tales of the insignificant … and amplifies the forgotten, invisible, and the overlooked with a futile attempt to gain acceptance and to feel comforted in various situations.” These works seem to emphasize the power of space in shaping one’s perception and experience. Elsewhere, a series of illustrations are affixed to the wall, composed of stylized human forms and multicolored shapes. The whimsical nature of Barney’s work is at once humorous and sad, perhaps as stand-in sentiments symbolizing the arch between discomfort and comfort.
While the themes stated are a bit loftier than they come across in the actual works, both artists succeed in complicating the formality and sterility of the traditional gallery space. By doing so, viewers are forced to identify their own bodily relationship and psychological associations with the art presented, a long-standing yet effective strategy for artists hoping to incite curiosities and interpretive possibilities.
Comforting Discomfort, featuring Dalila Sanabria and Fiona Matisse Barney, Rio Gallery, Salt Lake City, through Mar. 6.
Scotti Hill is a lawyer, art critic, and curator based in Salt Lake City. She has contributed to various publications and serves as an adjunct professor of art history at Westminster College. She has a Master’s Degree in art history from the University of Utah.