Copyright 2007-2012
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Installation views from Interior Hangings at chashama (303 Tenth Ave., New York, NY), June 20–July 6, 2013 // photographs by Pierre Le Hors

The sculptures in this exhibition by Natalie Beall equate the psychic with the physical and offer a place to invest feeling. These constructions are similar in function to the objects one might collect and place on the kind of shelf for which Whatnot is named. The what-not shelf typically tapers as it rises and its purpose is to hold anything one might desire to keep: various things of imprecise function collected and valued for their beauty, curiosity or oddity, for being a wonderful texture or color, for being, in the case of a seashell, many things at once: a relic of something once functional, a marvel of form, a souvenir of some time at the beach, a representation of one’s love of the sea.

Like the objects of the what-not shelf, the pieces in this exhibition offer momentary centers; each work is a collection of facts on which to fasten one’s consciousness. Some, such as Sifter, call louder than others for psychic investment. Works quieter in this aspect are not weaker, but calm and democratic — resting places, schematics of balance and elucidations of geometry. The material elements of each sculpture interact like characters in a story: autonomous but relating to and changing, and also not changing, one another.

On a wall of the artist’s studio are a few reference images. One shows a photo of an empty auditorium — a meeting hall with an elevated stage on one end and a floor level occupied by a broad circle of evenly and widely spaced chairs facing each other, set up for some unspecified meeting. It’s a quiet image. There’s total silence and a massive amount of potential energy involving the invisible and the time outside of the photograph. The order of the chairs’ arrangement is an order in which relationships define a function that in turn determines the form.

The selection of materials in these works is carefully made. In the process of construction, Beall finds the points where materials are allowed to behave most naturally. The rungs of thick felt in Whatnot both hold and lose shape, demonstrating a point of material balance between actually being functional and simply referencing function. This kind of playfulness shows up too in Focus, where the artist’s hand is evident in the drawn/painted criss-cross pattern of the screen mesh that appears in the lower half of the piece, as if one were leaning into the magnification of a microscope. Using the belief system of sculpture, which in occupying three dimensions claims (if deceptively) to be the closest to real, Beall plays cleverly with the languages of perspective, functionality, and representation.

Consistent beneath this play is the honesty of the materials, which react naturally to a few important points of holding or tension. Inherent in the thing done naturally is an intimation of necessity and desire. In We Feel, the screen fabric wants to form even convolutions if fixed at even intervals; in The Extra Guest the stringy, velvety black trim wants to hang long. Desire meets with fact and order as a circle hung over a bar divides into two new shapes. As in modern design and architecture, materiality and playfulness guide form, and form follows function or necessity.

In these works there is the imagination of inventing characters and building houses, of meetings, relationships and participation. There is the allure of geometry, the seductive transformation of a line bending to form a curve, the curve defining a new plane, the order of incremental change, the ritual of doubling, the primacy of the pair. Beall’s sculptures rationalize physical and metaphysical contradictions while demonstrating simple material facts; they offer moments of recognition. Summed up nicely in the title An Intense Kind of Knowing, these moments of recognition are points of freedom. To look, see, and feel “Oh, there you are, and here I am.”

-Jennifer Dohne