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Meredyth Sparks: So I Will Let It Alone And Talk About The House

Cara Despain

Meredyth Sparks, “Untitled,” 2012. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist and Locust Projects.

Quiet and deadpan, Sparks’s photographic collages/assemblages, sculptural installations and first-ever animation are fixated on the etymological origins and contemporary application of extraction. Though elements of the pieces felt precious, whether by craft or by pattern, together they coolly examined how interior space and décor are often viewed as functions of gender and form. Rather than merely reiterating this observation, Sparks reduced and isolated key layers—emphasizing subtle cultural insignia related to material and labor, e.g., stitching or housekeeping.

Vacant and unspecific, the mixture of fabric, texture and structure constructed a loose narrative uncommitted to any one location. The patterns, furniture and shrouded decorative quality of the works served as psychological indicators to her idea of extraction—which aims to pick out an intimate space at any moment and exploit the undertones. The wallpaper and linen designs enforced a mass-produced aesthetic, and the clean and subtle sensibility, especially in the collage pieces, made the slivers of photographic images of interior space poignantly effective. A perfectly made bed or a nondescript interior somehow triggers a nostalgia that is transient and transitive but cannot be placed as altogether familiar—similar to Diane Keaton’s photographic series Reservations, that depicts mostly empty hotel lobbies where she traveled.

Meredyth Sparks, “So I will leave it alone and talk about the house,” 2012. Installation View. Photo courtesy of the artist and Locust Projects. Photo: Chi Lam.

Because of the generic feel of the fittingly untitled two-dimensional works, there was a minor struggle between the nonspecific and the particular in the sculptural installation pieces. Eileen Gray, the Irish modernist designer and architect, was paid homage by the clean-lined string installation that rendered her Rivoli tea table design at an architectural scale—repositioning viewers against its implications as a place of tea service and private gatherings. The activities associated with the furniture now occurred underneath it; the viewer walked through it instead of around it. While this serves domesticity and the feminine, and recurring notions of interior/exterior, there is a tension between the rather obscure, specific reference and the abstraction upon which her notion of extraction relies. Though plucking out a particular work by a modernist female designer from a male-dominated history is in itself a form of extraction, the gendered statement is lost for viewers unfamiliar with Rivoli, ironically because the piece was not immediately recognizable as a domestic object.

A symbol of privacy within a private space, the multi-paneled dressing screen in the center featured obscure images of Bette Midler’s early performances layered onto a lattice structure itself wrapped in a photo of a wooden screen. The intentional confusion of physical objects and their two-dimensional representations made it an apt sculptural complement to the collage work in the show, but the abstracted images of Midler seemed to conflate two separate interests. The implications of this depiction of the singer’s stage persona perhaps better fits Sparks’s overall oeuvre, but here it felt tangential. The imposition of gender and reference in both these pieces didn’t hurt the work, but felt slightly unresolved or unreconciled due to being tied to specific figures. It dissolved the ambiguous psychological environments the others

Because these works were larger and functioned like centerpieces, their relationship to the concept begged consideration—but the strength and tone of the two-dimensional works was notable. It is the sophistication of these that shouldered the weight of the show; they guided viewers to extract associations for themselves, rather than providing them one option to decipher.