Tara Donovan

Tara Donovan’s “Survey” is an expansive and airy show. The power of alchemy is at work in these large imposing spaces. Donovan’s transformative processes are at times beguiling and require closer and closer inspection to detect them, at others they are comically heart-on-sleeve. These are essentially abstract works: while some appear to reference natural phenomena such as geological formations or weather, one gets the feeling they are not necessarily intentional allusions, but rather dictated by the particular forms of the substances used.

As well as the sculptural and installation works that dominate the show, there are a number of wall-based drawings/paintings. Untitled (Bubble Drawing) (2004) is a delicate work using ink on foamcore. Bubbles of pale ink have burst onto the surface of the painting to create an abstract pattern of circular shapes. The intestinal forms of Untitled (2003) are created using stickers on mylar to produce writhing tubes across the surface. Untitled (2004) has stickers and mylar affixed to a lightbox, creating the effect of an Adam Fuss-like, luminescent photogram.

There are certain works that, despite being substantial in size, have a barely-there quality. Haze (2003), the most ethereal of these works, comprises clear plastic drinking straws protruding from the wall to create milky, hazy, bulbous formations that seem to move, appear and disappear as you walk towards and around them, encouraging movement and curiosity. Prosaic materials combine to create enigmatic forms and comparisons to Tom Friedman spring to mind, although the effects are somewhat different. Somehow the materials seem to take on lives of their own, discarding their original functions with gay abandon. Nebulous (2002) consists of scotch tape arranged in sprawling and unruly curved patterns on the ground, almost invisible against the grey concrete flooring. Lure (2004) uses fishing line cut up and arranged to resemble strange, almost mould-like clusters nestling on the concrete.

A more solid-looking work – Untitled (2003), made from styrofoam cups and hot glue, bulging out from the ceiling – ironically resembles clouds, those most unsolid of phenomena. This large-scale works manages to fill an already huge space with a delicate otherwordly presence. Bluffs (2005) piles translucent and opaque buttons into intricate Gaudi-esque towers, resembling coral formations or the mysterious tufa of California’s Mono Lake. Colony (2002) looks like a three-dimensional relief map from above. From a distance it could be rock formations, or buildings; in fact it is made from plain wooden pencils cut to varying heights and clustered together on the floor, sprawling outwards like Los Angeles. The most imposing work in the show, Transplanted (2001), made from ripped and stacked tarpaper, is an enormous sculpture that undulates and fills the room with the stench of tar.

Differing from these organic-looking forms, there is a trio of cubes created from hard geometric materials. The label descriptions of media used are worth reproducing here: “Shattered tempered glass held together by friction and gravity only”, “Nickel-plated steel pins held together by friction and gravity only”, “Round wooden toothpicks held together by friction and gravity only”. These three works resonate with the history of Minimalism in a satisfying way. Like Eva Hesse’s 1960 “Accession” series of perforated topless cubes with interiors filled with loops of vinyl tubing, the materials defy the confines of the cube and create an uncontainable excess, not dissimilar to the show as a whole.

Published in Contemporary magazine issue 76 www.contemporary-magazine.com