Reveal the Rats
The Pit, Los Angeles
February 13th – March 26th
By LEAH SCHLACKMAN, APR. 2016
After relocating to Los Angeles, and experiencing the general pangs of nostalgia that any New Yorker might after leaving Manhattan, I was excited to see that The Pit, a two-year-old, artist-run gallery had opened a show entitled, Reveal the Rats. The rat-encounter is an integral part of the New York experience. There is one rat for every four humans, which means for the eight million two-legged inhabitants of the city, there are 2 million four-legged, long-tailed counterparts, just waiting to feed on someone's discarded pizza crust. As much as a person tries to avoid a close encounter with a rat-kind (and a rat-king), there is something to be said in defense of the rat: they’ve survived and thrived for this long, let’s give credit where credit is due. Rats are marked by their knack of building something from nothing; they collect deconstructed parts of what was once a whole to create their own new whole—often inside their hole. Similar to how the rat builds itself a home from remnants of refuse, the five artists in “Reveal the Rats” also reformed items and images of domesticity to construct a new image of home: one that was sometimes gruesome, often broken, and completely new.
All five artists—Anna Betbeze, Rebecca Morris, Sterling Ruby, Lara Schnitger and Despina Stokou—made complete pieces out of discarded parts, often subverting traditional symbols of the domestic landscape as well as conventional modes of mark-making. Schnitger demonstrated the latter in her work, "Reclining Nude," the first piece you saw upon entering the small gallery space. The Reclining Nude is one of art’s greatest motifs, a staple image in the history of the world’s canon. Schnitger’s nude was a negative, a perfectly articulated bleach mark on a multi-colored quilt. She was angular and flat, accentuating the 2-dimensionality of the quilt upon which she literally lay. Not quite nude (she wore sneakers), the figure was spliced by a skateboarding boy, rendered in the positive colors of the quilt. The woman was constructed by the careful application of bleach, a chemical whose purpose is to remove to pull stains away from cloth. Here, reclining on the quilt—an object historically woven and patterned by multiple women—the image of the female was represented by absence.
Betbeze, too, used the act of removal to create form. Her work, Sexy Animal, flipped the traditional implications of a fire-side bear-skin rug by sewing together unmatched squares of gnarled and knotted afghans. No bare asses on this bear skin. The rug slinked off the wall, draped loosely to emphasize the weight of the piece; its place on the wall removing any functionality that might have at once been attributed to the pieces that make up this whole. Using fire as a form of mark-making, Betbeze crisped edges of the afghans and burned straight through their fury centers. The crisped afghan edges and holes in the material further detached the rug from its domestic context. She transformed the pieces of rug into a form that no longer served the space of the home, but was only practical as its own creature, its own bizarre animal.
The Bed, arguably the image most indicative of the domestic landscape was deconstructed and recreated by artist Sterling Ruby in his piece BC. Sleek, reflective, metal framed the glued- together fabrics and splattered bronze paint. A black, quilted blanket was attached to the canvas layered with flicks of paint, glue and cut-away waistbands. The elastic waistband from a pair of Calvin Klein underwear was weighted by glue, securing its place on the quilted surface. Two other bands or hems were also fastened onto the unruly background: a reimagining of a bed just slept in, housing the remnants of yesterday’s attire, the previous night’s activity.
Morris, too, reassembled a new whole from displaced shards. In Untitled (#516-15 - 524-15), jagged-edged shapes of paper strewn across a plain canvas hovered around one another, like two north poles of a pair of magnets, each unable to find their adjoining puzzle piece. Each fragment was marked with a sprayed black streak, but was left unconnected, extending to nothing but the blank canvas that surrounded its confining piece. Her other work exhibited in “Rats,” Untitled (#501 -15), was also a reassembled piece, comprised of different colored segments taped together at angles that suggested an effort toward a re-imagined whole. But the reunion stopped short, the jagged-edged piece was left just as it is, gaping, open, like a toothy, unhinged jaw. The mind, searching for a narrative or figurative form within abstraction, might jump quickly to a broken dish. One might conclude that Morris was reshaping, reforming a broken plate into what it formerly was. But in keeping the pieces apart from one another, she was declaring a new non-purpose for what might have been. Broken and unconnected, bereft of their former context, they became something new.
The Pit stated in the “Reveal the Rats” press release: “In their ability to transform the bones of a building, the rat is actually a builder, a creator, an architect.” This was the thread that ran throughout the work on display in Reveal the Rats. The artists pulled at the threads of traditional image making by bleaching, burning, and tearing their forms to create new marks. They pulled from and pulled apart symbols of the domestic sphere to create a new space, a new home, entirely their own. WM
Leah Schlackman is a Los Angeles based writer and editor.