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Originally Published in Carla, Issue 4, April 2016

A sweet fragrance filled the air of David Kordansky Gallery upon my recent visit. (The familiar scent of Nag Champa seemed more appropriate to the head shop down the street than the gallery’s mannered setting.) This overpowering but familiar smell lingered with me into Evan Holloway’s sculptural exhibition. It wasn’t until I reached the end of my careful studying of the show (call me daft) that the culprit was revealed: an incense holder disguised as a large, abstract, fiberglass sculpture, Benzoin (2015).

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The Möbius strip-inspired sculpture twists around itself like the fingers of a couple’s held hands; the tight strip conceals its spiraling path (and, apparently, its ability to house incense). The Möbius strip’s main function in mathematics (as I understand it) is its ability to be non-orientable, or indefinable: its beginning is its end, its back is its front, etc. Perhaps by rooting such an unknowable concept in heavy material and olfactory familiarities, Holloway is chasing away the unknown and giving it a purpose. Utility becomes an antithesis to the nameless.

Utility is coopted elsewhere in the exhibition. A stack of gnarled sculptural heads is as much an ominous totem as it is an innovative lighting solution; a reading further cemented in the innocuous title Lamp (2016). Landscape (2015), inversely, is a graveyard for used-up energy; various sized batteries in a milieu of colors and brands adorn its plaster armature. The piece feels alive with movement, its swaying arms paused in animation. Creating beauty out of humanity’s discards is not new, yet in Holloway’s hands, it feels curious and novel. Rather than proclaiming cautionary tales of human or technological waste, the inclusion of spent batteries seems based on the straightforward logic of what the artist had laying around the studio.

With Serpent and Lightning (2016), a Biblical title is lobbed onto a simple gesture. The artist—in a process that he’s done many times in the past—collected dead branches and pieces of wood and arranged bits of them together to form a 3-dimensional geometric gridded tapestry. Delighting in the negative spaces that align and misalign while walking around the piece reminds of driving past a graveyard, headstones rolling through stages of order and disorder as you zoom by. Here, the grid reveals a simple human impulse to create order where there is none; or, perhaps in this case, to create new life out of death.

Placed dramatically center stage amongst all of these dead trees and spent batteries is Plants and Lamps (2015): a cluster of sculpted houseplants that sit with dejected pride amidst two “lamps.” Though Lamp was graced with functioning, glowing bulbs, these “lamps” hover above the “plants” devoid of any utility. While the plant’s texture is appealing, and taken as a whole, Holloway’s grouping of sculptures contains a gratifying array of textures and formal delights, it is hard to take these houseplants too seriously.

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Since Kordansky opened in its new location a year and a half ago, there have been at least three exhibitions using similar tropical houseplants as a central motif. Houseplants were prominently featured in Jonas Wood’s self-titled exhibition (2015), and Andrew Dadson’s Painting (Organic) (2015). The gallery’s opening was christened by perhaps the most memorable of these examples: Rashid Johnson’s behemoth Plateaus (2014), a pyramid of steel and potted plants that seemed to advertise the gallery’s freshly-sandblasted cross beams as its height stretched towards the ceiling. Though, Dadson’s work Painted Plants (2015) is perhaps the most analogous to Holloways recent foray into tropical foliage. Dadson’s plants are real ones that have been monochromatically painted in a charcoal black. Two grow lights were positioned in front of the group, casting an orange glow and with it a smattering of shadows on the wall behind. Holloway’s Plants and Lamps then snaps into view as a potential critique of his cohorts who have flocked to this familiar and easy subject matter. Yet, in replicating the thing, which we mean to critique, are we not just duplicating the thing itself?

By distorting his sculptures’ embedded functionality, Holloway is perhaps leading the fray of the “analog counterrevolution.”[1] What is more accessible to a general audience than the familiarities of home? Yet, what becomes of the Möbius strip sculpture after the Nag Champa stick has burned away? Does it then—separated from its utility—become a more pure version of itself? Stripped of function and interaction, does Benzoin lay as a classical object to be quietly pondered? Does it violently skew away from the accessible, and into the shiny, white arena of Art? These subversions—along with a rich and vivid material exploration—surely enhance the ideals embedded in Holloway’s revolution. Although, what is a true revolution if not innovation? Mimicry then—in the revolution that is—is a weak form of protest. In attempting commentary of current artworld tropes by mirroring them, Holloway’s uprising loses a bit of its gusto.

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[1] “What the artist describes as an “analog counterrevolution” is also a one-man paean to the belief that stand alone sculpture can, in and of itself, be both conceptually complex and intuitively accessible to a general audience.” –Evan Holloway Press Release, David Kordansky Gallery.

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