Blue Star Contemporary Art Center, San Antonio
Through May 14
by Lana Shafer
Jade Walker’s newest installation Quadri-Poise, the second and final sculptural installation sited at Blue Star in San Antonio as part of the 2011 Texas Biennial, continues her conceptual and formal investigation of the body through a poetic assemblage of found objects and fabrics. Featuring a pared-down palette of flesh tones with blood red accents, Quadri-Poise is a tableau of varied sculptural elements exploring dualities in material, form and body politics.
Nestled in Blue Star’s smallest, most intimate gallery space, Walker’s installation is reminiscent of a domestic setting. The walls are neutral beige, while a portion of the floor is covered with Nitto tape placed in parallel strips like hardwood flooring. However, other elements in the space produce an uncanny atmosphere more appropriately associated with a surrealist dream world. Perched center stage is a cream and white birdlike figure with a bulbous base covered in fur fabric, a long erect neck encased with a foam collar (or neck brace) fastened with zip ties and brass brads, and a protruding beak. The sculpture’s core, and the crux of the installation, is a walking cane with a four-footed base called a Quadri-Poise— a piece of medical equipment signifying support, but also the fragility of the body.
On the back wall hang three round assemblages, also intimate in scale. Punctured with stickpins and adorned with knoblike wooden pieces, these flesh-toned objects appear as breasts, bodily fetishes on display. The baseboards are lined with a series of small, uniform, oblong-shaped sculptures made of rolled fabric and propped up against the walls like a ritualistic accumulation of bones. A large wooden mallet looming in the corner lodges another amorphous sculpture, crafted out of sutured white fur and cream fabric, against the wall. Hidden to the viewer from outside the gallery’s open double doorway, the mallet’s presence becomes ominous once the viewer enters the space. If the mallet were to suddenly drop, the central fowl would incur a heavy blow. Considering this implication of potential violence, perhaps the bird is a mythological reference to Leda and the Swan, but unlike the ancient Greek myth, in which Zeus becomes a swan to rape and impregnate Leda, Walker’s swan is fractured and vulnerable, confusing the gender roles of this motif frequently depicted in art since the Renaissance.
Walker’s soft sculpture and focus on abject bodily subjects calls to mind such precedents as Eva Hesse, Mike Kelley, Annette Messager and Dorothea Tanning. Inherent to this lineage is also a reaction to the masculinity of minimalism. While Quadri-Poise utilizes the monochromatic and serial language of minimalism, Walker also suffuses each object with insightful content and subtle human touches. The viewer’s close inspection of each element in the work is highly rewarded, as poignant details—like the strand of red thread connecting a soft tuft of fur to a stickpin—are artfully revealed.
Lana Shafer is a freelance writer and art historian based in San Antonio, Texas.