Lauren Davies at Ampersand

Art in America, June 2007

Mark Van Proyen

Lauren Davies' recent exhibition, titled "Dominion," consisted of eight three-dimensional works and a pair of large, unframed digital prints on canvas replicating antique French maps of Africa. Petting Zoo/Pongo (2005) and Ivory Products (2006), the two largest works, are homemade display cases with contents that look as if they are awaiting completion as natural-history museum dioramas by momentarily absent makers. The objects within are of an enigmatic character, a quality enhanced by their juxtaposition to each other; among them are grapefruit-sized stones partially covered with spray-foam snow, animal tusks carved from bars of soap and work gloves presented in a state of transformation into unconvincing gorilla paws. There are also cryptic written annotations, some typographically formal and others scrawled on notepaper in a way that suggests a secret instruction to whoever might be tasked with finishing the tableaux.

Of course, in grand Duchampian fashion, it was the viewer who was called upon to complete the story implied by this reliquary display of semi-related clues. Complicating matters was the fact that another six objects were placed around the gallery as if to suggest that the whole exhibition should be read as a diorama--a much larger one containing both the disquieting objects and the viewer. All seemed to await, and resist, translation into a codified narrative. Like those inside the cases, the other objects were presented as if they were unfinished. A toy-sized wood carving of a giraffe, for example, titled Whittled Away (2006), was surrounded by shavings, as if left over from its incomplete manufacture.

The digital prints, titled Dominion: Africa Maps (2006), contributed to an interpretation of the exhibition. Presented in a tattered condition, the classroom-style maps seemed the remnants of a vanished geography of colonialism, conjuring the troubled sleep of a guilty history. They recast the other objects as the components of a failed attempt to rationalize the fantasy of what was once called the "Dark Continent." What we are left with are residual fragments of the border zone between fact and willful misrecognition, a frozen moment in the slow dissolution of a childhood memory of something that never was.


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