Kara Uzelman’s first solo exhibition in Berlin, ‘The Cavorist Project’, takes as its starting point eccentric scientist Joseph Cavor, a character from H.G.Wells 1901 novel ‘The First Men on the Moon’, who developed an anti-gravitational material he named ‘Cavorite’. Uzelman’s exhibition, according to the press release, ‘consists of a series of inventions, experiments, and historical documents left over from a movement of people that followed the ideas of Joseph Cavor.’ So Uzelman starts with a fiction from which a further fiction is elaborated, which attaches itself, barnacle like, to the first. The question of authorship is fudged from the get-go. Does this group actually exist? Is it a fictional version of an existing group? Is the entire thing a fabrication? Are these in fact all the products of one individual? Does it matter?
Such ponderings themselves seem to have an anti-gravitational effect, leaving certainties of person, time and place unanchored and free-floating. This effect bears testament to the artist’s thorough imagining of a Cavorist movement and the convincing scenario she portrays. Many of the works making up ‘The Cavorist Project’ were made during the artist’s residency in Dawson City, Yukon, an isolated town in the far far north of Canada, no doubt conducive to vivid imaginings of fantastical alternative societies. The exhibition exudes the atmosphere of garden-shed eccentricity, with its pseudo-scientific models and drawings, faked hand-written documents, and assorted paraphernalia. Photographs in mismatched frames document amateur experiments in snow-covered landscapes, or shambolic huts cobbled together from corrugated iron and scrap wood, one of which has an impressively improvised geodesic roof made of sticks and plastic sheeting and is, unlikely though it seems, ‘The Center for Research, Observation and Technology’. Nearby on an ancient reel-to-reel tape recorder, the (this time genuine) Canadian scientist John Hutchinson can be heard being interviewed by the artist about ‘The Hutchinson Effect’, which involves such dubious phenomena as the levitation of heavy objects and spontaneous fracturing of metals. A shaky video on a black and white TV documents ritualistic events like ‘the performance of a well-known Cavorist folk-song’ (providing a soundtrack of warbling recorder music) and ‘The Aimless Parade’ (Uzelman and her colleagues wandering around draped in blankets). Whether or not the whole thing is a hoax is somehow beside the point. The tenuous links between plausible science and quackery build a narrative tension that lends the assembled objects and constructions an authenticity of intent.
One case in point is the striking ‘Magnetic Stalactite’, a pendulous sculpture consisting of a collection of random metal detritus (tin cans, beer bottle caps, spoons, scissors, horse shoe) hanging swarm-like from the ceiling. Magnetism emancipated from gravitational principles is harnessed as sculptural force; it shapes not only the narrative as a whole, but also, literally, the objects themselves. It seems even to assume autonomous power, as a pair of white shoes creep up the radiator in the corner (‘Magnetic Shoes’).
There is an appealing eccentricity to Uzelman’s sculptures, with their everyday objects, bits of string, scraps and junk, assembled with great energy and leaps of the imagination to become, for instance, ‘A Cavorist Music Box’. Their sculptural vocabulary brings to mind the many and various young artists engaged in expanded notions of three-dimensional collage, recently collected under the label ‘un-monumental’ by New York’s New Museum. What Uzelman brings to this discussion of the ‘un-monumental’ as an aesthetic tendency is a delving into the potential that narrative can have to affect an object’s meaning and reception. Her past projects (the wholesale buying up garage sales and refashioning these appropriated possessions into sculptural objects; an archeological dig of her own backyard) suggest an anthropological interest in the nature of objects as part of a narrative history. Does junk with history stop being junk? Can a wooden spoon be so transformed as to relinquish its wooden spoon-ness? Uzelman’s objects balance precariously on the borderline of both – we can believe them into music box, but they retain their clunky functional origins, just as the Cavorist narrative as a whole wavers between the ridiculous and the cultishly convincing. The question here is how the objects would fare without the fictional narrative framework that supports them. Could they exist as autonomous sculptures? Would they want to? Or are they content to be props in a historical dramatization of the imagination? Art, science, magic and story-telling fuse and form the central conceit of Cavorism, to which the works cling like bees to a hive, or rather, like nails to a magnet.
Kara Uzelman „The Cavorist Project“
Sommer & Kohl
Kara Uzelman „The Cavorist Projects“, Ausstellungsansicht, 2009 (© Courtesy Sommer & Kohl)