Ramp Project: Phoebe Washburn
April 20 - August 5, 2007
Vacational Trappings and Wildlife Worries
For Vacational Trappings and Wildlife Worries Washburn has created what she considers, "the poor man's aquarium," an enclosed barrel-vaulted walkway made from hundreds of scrap-wood pieces adhered together in a patchwork pattern. This seemingly rickety lean-to has an assortment of windows and niches with water tanks. But there aren't any fish. Instead, they feature painted rocks, water plants, tiny shrimp, snails and Day-Glo golf balls. Accompanying the scent of wood, the sound of acquarium air pumps hum gently in the background. At the landing, she's installed a large pond with lily pads and other aquatic plants. Nearby sit a huge barrel of water and a hose which will be used to replenish water over the course of the exhibition.
Her structures are typically enormous, architecturally-based, organic in nature and complex. They are constructed out of bits of collected refuse. Having witnessed routine building processes evidenced in neighborhood construction she is drawn not so much to the method by which a structure goes up, rather to the more methodical acts of sorting, stacking and organizing materials. She has said of her collecting process "I select objects that have already been worn, already marked and already discarded because then they are already in the state I want them to be. They are what they are already."
Washburn's work touches on notions of recycling and environmentalism. She culls her materials—including masses of collapsed cardboard, newspapers, stone, plastic cups and scraps of wood she encounters while out and about from local loading docks, alleyways and recycling bins. She then stacks, binds, and nails together her discoveries. She organizes and even paints some according to her own complex color-coding system. Washburn sees the dichotomy in the materials she gathers which are so prevalent in our consumer culture—cheap, lightweight, adaptable, and disposable. They are invaluable and worthless at the same time. This notion of recycling pervades her practice beyond collecting the materials in that each installation's materials are often re-used and re-assembled into an entirely new and unique work.
Sprawling and ambitious her work has a strong physicality. Many of her structures are held by wooden poles or supports either propped on folding chairs and phone books. She refers to her works as "spontaneous architecture." "My sculptures depend a lot on the spaces where they are shown because they often are anchored into the wall but chance is definitely more of a factor in the final product than is any predetermined design. I just let the structures evolve by repeating the same action again and again. The process has a slightly neurotic element in that it involves adding little behavior habits. As silly as it sounds, I often feel as if my assistants and I are beavers building a dam. The shapes are less about form than they are about the activity involved in amassing and assembling the forms."
Installation views at ICA. Photos by Aaron Igler. > click to enlarge
This project is organized by Elyse Gonzales, Associate Curator, and is accompanied by a brochure publication.
ICA acknowledges primary sponsorship of the William Penn Foundation for this project. Additional funding has been provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, The Dietrich Foundation, Inc., the Overseers Board for the Institute of Contemporary Art, friends and members of ICA, and the University of Pennsylvania. ICA is also grateful for in-kind support from Loews Philadelphia Hotel. (Information complete as of 3/8/07.)
Images, top to bottom: Phoebe Washburn, Minor In-House Brain Storm (detail), 2006-07, installation view, Whitney Museum of American Art at Altria. Courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery, New York. Photo: Adam Reich... Phoebe Washburn, It Makes for My Billionaire Status, 2005, mixed media, installation view, Kantor Feuer Gallery, Los Angeles... Courtesy Zach Feuer Gallery, New York