Victoria Skirpa Sculpture at 21 Grand Gallery, Oakland California
One of the most vital inputs into sculptural practice has always been the infusion of energy from various craft traditions. In the latter part of the twentieth century, this helped rescue American sculpture from over-intellectual tedium, by bringing in the enlivening influence of welding, ceramics, and even hot-rod customization techniques. When people who already know what they're doing approach their materials with artistic purposes in mind, interesting things are bound to happen, especially when their abilities transcend one particular craft tradition. This was certainly the case with some work I saw the other day, in a gallery in Oakland's up-and-coming "Uptown" neighborhood, a district formerly devoted mostly to the auto industry but increasingly colonized by artists attracted to its accessible urban location and relatively cheap rents. Victoria Skirpa's latest sculptural work draws on the crafts of jewelry, art metalsmithing and studio glass casting, and takes them to unexpected yet curiously apt conclusions.
I was particularly impressed by a couple of complex tabletop assemblages made mostly of beaten metal surmounted by glowing glass fingertips. While they didn't refer to any particular art-historical style, they conjured up poetical and science-fiction associations - grave goods of the cybernauts; a machine for diagnosing psychic traumas; or perhaps a game designed to be played by insectile aliens. In a movie, I could see the hero desperately trying to get one aligned with the magnetic field of a dying planet in time to channel its destructive forces, or in a video game (its antique/futuristic aesthetic is somewhat reminiscent of Myst 2, actually) you'd reach it after opening a hidden door to a secret room, and would have to figure out what to twist - and what not to touch. Of course, others might free-associate differently from me, but the work seemed to lend itself to this sort of imaginative construction, with its mysteriously purposeful air.
Artists of the present day have been influenced by a multitude of styles and traditions, and it's difficult to come up with something of ones own, that doesn't immediately remind somebody of another artist or culture. We are surrounded by objects that are made by processes we don't understand, which work in ways we only dimly comprehend, but which set standards of finish and function that are hard for hand craftsmanship to match. There are unspoken rules and categories in the art world, despite its seeming anarchy, which tend to trap artists in pigeonholes, where one is safe but unchallenged to escape. In this context, Victoria is like a dancer in a minefield - we can only wonder at the boldness and deftness of each step, and hope she manages to keep amazing us.
The show runs until May 23, at the 21Grand gallery and performance space, 449B 23rd St. Oakland 94612. Their website is www.21grand.org. If you're in the area, take a look.