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Kat Ryals and Kate Stone: Swallowed Into the Soft Underbelly at Ortega y Gasset Projects

Installation view, Kat Ryals and Kate Stone: Swallowed Into the Soft Underbelly at Ortega Y Projects. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Kat Ryals and Kate Stone: Swallowed Into the Soft Underbelly 

Curated by Clare Britt and Tiffany Smith

Ortega y Gasset Projects

Through May 1, 2022 

By ANA MARIA FARINA, April 2022 

Over the past couple of years, we have been inundated with “pandemic” shows, where the main focus was to present works created from artists’ home spaces. Swallowed Into the Soft Underbelly is a two-person show at Ortega y Gasset Projects featuring the works of Kat Ryals and Kate Stone, where we are confronted with what’s usually overlooked: the home as the main subject and its direct relation to our psyche. 

As you walk into the space, you feel as if you’ve entered an extravagant Vegas rug showroom. The deep burgundy walls and Kat Ryals’s custom-ornamented wallpaper—Flora Carnivora, 2022—lead to a pile of bright-colored plush rugs under somewhat disconcerting fluorescent lighting. When you look closely, however, you can see that both rugs and wallpaper are in fact photos of intricate assemblages, using cheap and often discarded materials such as beads, fake plant leaves, and anything plastic and artificial. In Surf N Turf Special (All You Can Eat), for instance, there are plastic bones in candy colors, fake jewels in geometrical designs, and at the very center of the symmetrical composition there is a clown patch that can unbalance any viewer. By creating pieces that resemble tapestries found at Versailles, Ryals’s work deals with the illusion of luxury in material culture; in her own words, it “demonstrates how formulaic it is to conjure power, largely through fiction.”

Kat Ryals, Surf N Turf Special (All You Can Eat), 2022. Custom Print on Velvet Rug, 50 x 78”. Image courtesy of the artist.

By surrounding ourselves with paraphernalia that will ultimately be discarded, we create a false sense of home, a temple in reverence to our own selves and the life (or lives) we lived. What Ryal reminds us is that cycles of life and death are already surrounding us within these spaces; we just need to look through the fiction—search through the plastic—to realize that there is not enough consumerism that can save us. In that sense, this body of work can serve almost as a contemporary memento mori. 

The existential question of “what are we becoming” is also explored in Kate Stone’s works, specifically in the relationship between our minds and the spaces we inhabit. In The Soft Tectonics of Fevered Bodies, a mass of carpet in the shape of a cocoon sits on a chair, taking over its legs, as if someone who had been sitting on it for so long eventually became the chair itself, just like in the striking scene in Maid (2021) in which, during a depressive episode, Alex (Margaret Qualley) is absorbed by the couch she has been lying on. In Stone’s words, “If petrification is the process by which porous, organic material is replaced by inorganic minerals, my sculptures imagine a reverse process. Here, carpet absorbs so much of the residue of life that it is animated into a growing, living thing, taking the shape of alien, stalagmite-like forms.”

Kate Stone, The Soft Tectonics of Fevered Bodies, 2022. Carpet, found furniture, wool, 40hz bulb, single-channel video, cell phone, plaster, joint compound, wax, epoxy clay, polyurethane foam, flex paste, wire, wood, acrylic paint, 5’8” x 4’10” x 5’2”. Image courtesy of the artist.

Another highlight of the show is Kate Stone’s Strange Loops (A Gathering Storm in Four Dimensions), a 4k stop-motion animation that combines a delicious ASMR with a creature-like way of giving life to an interior space. Do our surroundings influence us or do we become them? Louise Bourgeois, known for her dense psychoanalytic content, created the Femme Maison series in 1946-47—a series of paintings of nude female figures with heads and bodies replaced by architectural forms such as buildings and houses—in an attempt to investigate her feeling that she was becoming the domestic space she was confined by and question the role of women in this sphere. During these pandemic years, many parents (mothers especially) have struggled and are still struggling with the entrapments of domestic life while also trying to function in a capitalist society that requires them to do more, be more, make more.  I am glad to see artists like Kat Ryals and Kate Stone who are empathetic enough to bring attention to these issues into art spaces that are historically famous for ignoring them, most importantly when they are also using marginalized materials and techniques of craft to do so. Here’s to more extravagant rugs, and beads, and carpets, and all things yarn taking their place in the contemporary art world. 

Swallowed Into the Soft Underbelly is up until May 1, 2022, at Ortega y Gasset Projects. WM

Ana Maria Farina

As both an artist and an educator, Ana is interested in experimentation, experiences of release and constraint, expansion and collapse. Her work investigates themes of hysteria and repression of the feminine, as well as the body and identity through the lens of feminist theory and psychoanalysis. Lately, Ana has been exploring the materiality of fibers and textiles, creating sculptural paintings that visually speak what Elaine Showalter called a “feminine protolanguage.”

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