CRYSTAL WAGNER ¬

SURFACE TENSION

JANUARY 30–APRIL 17, 2016

Artist Crystal Wagner’s vision is a delicate balance between natural and manufactured worlds. Her installations are vast, swirling maelstroms of color and texture formed from quotidian objects: Plastic dollar store items like cheap tablecloths and straws. Wagner weaves them onto a wire armature where they take on a life of their own. They evolve from their own mundane beginnings and begin to resemble waves, amoebas, algae, fungus or perhaps viruses. In other words, they mimic the natural world as they creep, stretch and grow in, around and through their environments.

These complex structures give you the feeling that they are growing and dividing. The individual materials seem to have divided and multiplied. Mankind’s manufacturing efforts replicating cell division taken to an extreme. Our culture produces simple plastic materials again and again until their value shrinks down to mere cents for the consumer. Yet, unlike organic forms, these materials are slow to experience decay. They are unnatural, abnormal and willing to stay for hundreds of years. They are very much part of the environment that we have created for ourselves. It is with this realization that tensions in the installation begin to reveal themselves.

The monetary cost of using cheap plastic materials seems minimal at first. But, there is a higher price to pay. These objects are not truly disposable. They will be here seven generations from now. Their breakdown poisons our waters, in the ground, rivers, lakes and oceans. Wagner herself recognizes this tension. She reuses the materials in the different installations as they are born and expire at different sites. Under her determined guidance, they emerge from the clutter that is the background of our lives and assert themselves. A visual tsunami, their mass gathers, swells and asserts itself into our personal space, demanding reconciliation.

Resolving this seeming paradox has been part of Wagner’s oeuvre since the near beginning of her artistic practice. She has a background in both sculpture and printmaking. Combining her artistic practice with her philosophical and worldly concerns has led her to different avenues of creation.

Here, at Virginia MOCA, Wagner has created a work using the Museum as the substrate for the installation. Virginia MOCA’s unusual architecture, location to the oceanfront and Wagner’s concern that viewers experience physical nature of her work informed the creation of the installation. Although contemporary art is easy to find online, it is only through firsthand knowledge that we can truly understand it. Our flattened experience of digital technology expands to reopen perception and broaden horizons. Virginia MOCA is also presenting a selection of Wagner’s small sculptural pieces, or “terrariums.” Deep, wood shadow boxes house delicate, cut paper sculptures. Like their namesakes, the sculptures are dynamic and alive. They seem fragile, yet ready to burst from their confines. A bit like humanity itself, they are life that defies its container.

Crystal Wagner lives and works in Harrisburg, PA. She received her MFA from the University of Tennessee and her BFA from the Atlanta College of Art. Her exhibition schedule includes growing large-scale installations all over the United States. Past installations include Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts (Grand Rapids, MI), National Museum of Singapore, Singapore and in Times Square, NYC. Wagner is a recipient of the 2015 Pollock-Krasner Grant. She is represented by Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco, CA.

Virginia MOCA would like to thank Crystal Wagner, Matthew Compton and Hashimoto Gallery for their help in realizing this exhibition.