Cave Mares; The Sculptural and Installation Work of Vanessa Diaz

Vanessa Diaz’s sculptural installations transform space through architectural formations and artifacts that conjure the human world, domestic or nomadic, mundane or surreal.  Through the dimensional sphere of her sculptures Diaz alters reality and leaves the viewer displaced—the familiar suddenly askew, asymmetric, reconfigured. Her compositions—both raw and refined, ethereal and concrete—convey interiors and exteriors in organic and social elements.

Diaz’s sculptures focus on a living space. Her soft-sculpture installations—often made with light fabric designed to ascend and descend—re-contextualize the nomadic tent as sculptural object composed in a gallery space. Through an imaginative arrangement of materials, Diaz constructs dynamic aerial objects that transform various elemental materials—fabric, rope, tar, liquid copper—to a cave-like or womb-like representation. In this way her sculptures are liminal, reaching back through time, and perhaps externalize a human homing instinct. In fact, homemaking in one sense defies the imagined wilderness almost felt there.

From within these tendrilous sculptures curtaining with the weight of gravity, but not quite collapsing on themselves—beneath them, behind them—a viewer is transported to a meditative space grounded in the organic. Ready to be dismantled, and rebuilt again, the tents perhaps symbolize a life in constant motion—one deeply connected to the energy and struggle of nature; they remind us of our impermanence.

It is from this notion of impermanence that Diaz seems to draw imaginative power. Her work lives in the moment of its installation and thus seems designed at least partially through an intuitive improvisation. She enters an empty space and begins; the work is created as a response to the exhibition space; in this sense she often employs a vernacular architecture, a kind of collage-work where the local objects or materials of a place are reimagined. She incorporates both found and made objects, and, thus, the installation lives specifically and primarily in the temporary space where it is constructed—whether, for instance, a museum gallery, a historic barn in the German countryside, or by the seaside in France. Her recent work incorporates discarded, recycled, and salvaged objects, which embody a second life in the process of creation. Her recent site-specific installation in Cassis, France, “A Space With Only an Inside,” built in a small, triangular courtyard visible only from above or through two windows of a historic building, activates an area never actually accessed. The work is composed of materials collected from the beach: beach chairs, a clothes-drying rack, string, fishing line, bouys, drift wood. Diaz’s sense of aesthetics is evident in the made-ness of the structures as each shape informs the next. But again, this work built on a Sunday morning was dismantled only two days after. This temporary making and unmaking lends toward an experimental, process-driven work concerned with the manipulation of material, an improvisational instinct, and the intimacy of the viewer’s encounter with the structure. Another exhibit “Excluding Everything That We Call the Future,” a title concerned with the past and the resonance of the past in the present, was prompted by an interest in preserving the 17th century barn house in Neukirchen Balbini, Germany. Diaz’s work (installed in the living room) arranged a spinning wheel, washboards, and other objects—some covered with sheets to insinuate the absence of those who’ve gone away—play as a time-capsule in this ghostly, abandoned place.

Yet Diaz also reinvents the modern living space as this artist often envisions interiors with installations that seem to subvert the conventional family home and replace the familiar household furnishings with the absurd. The ordinary is deconstructed and restructured, reconfigured, turned upside-down, or inside-out, so to speak, broken, or rearranged before our eyes until it seems divorced from function. Yet, even in this re-arranged world, the objects play on the traditional experience of the domestic. In “Cave Mares,” a now dysfunctional but still recognizable sofa, maybe from the 70s or 80s, is turned forward with the legs reassembled so that it stands in its new position. But perhaps the life of this work is in the seat of the sofa, which becomes a canvas where the artist paints an asymmetrical abstract image in the arched hollow. While the sofa itself transforms into an object divorced from function, and perhaps even further into a representation of a cave wall depicting a primitive image, the original properties of the sofa are still recognizable; thus the object bears two simultaneous realities in the viewer’s mind: the original domestic, and the absurd. In “Upon Which Everything Rests,” a sculpture made of four carved wooden legs of a dismantled antique table assembled together in varying directions, the viewer may stand enchanted by the not quite zen-like balancing act this clunky, but well-made piece. Despite the apparent fine workmanship of the structure, the sculpture seems ready to fall under the weight of gravity. This intentional lopsidedness animates this still life into a playful joke. Such sculptures conjure a felt absence of the abandoned, the displaced, the chaotic, the human—for the space Diaz’s creates through the placement of objects and through their asymmetry is hyperbolic. Here, where everything is off-center, the sculpture becomes a dramatic performance of the theatrical family home and the off-kilter realities of everyday actors who would occupy the space. She undomesticates the traditional by reshaping walls, reconfiguring once-functional objects and re-assigning them purpose; thus, Diaz’s work reckons with the human, ever-changing social world.

Yet, while this body of work leaves room for interpretation, each sculpture conveys inherent emotion in the aesthetics of the object, which the artist has intended the viewer to approach up-close and at a distance, and especially to move bodily within the dimensional space. For when one receives the object, especially the soft-sculptures, from multiple points of view, one can experience the sculpture from inside, or from the maker’s vantage points. Thus, the viewer engages in an intimate exchange with the work by stepping within the frame, or on the stage, so to speak.  In this way the viewer is asked to suspend reality and participate in the performance of the object. Through collaboration with the sculptural work, Diaz’s art-making inhabits the viewer’s internal emotional sphere where interiors and exteriors collide. Through the aesthetic emotion of salvaged remnants the viewer can receive these dynamic, intuitive, dark and playful exhibitions born out of the improvised orchestration of this unconventional artist’s intuition.