Enter the Wasteland

San Diego Union-Tribune January 31, 2008

By Robert L. Pincus


Chauney Peck is drawn to society's discards. Piles of tattered furniture, the kind of amalgamation you would find in a vacant urban lot or at the local landfill, are a prime subject. But her interest isn't documentary. She has a gift for form and structure that locates a kind of cool beauty in these things.

It's hard to say that the artist intends for us to be thinking first about beauty when we see her art. On her Web site, she comments, “My garbage piles investigate the nature of garbage as a material and offer a look at what we don't need.” But as it has been revealed time and again, intention doesn't always match results in art. We might say Peck has it both ways in her solo exhibition at Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects in Little Italy – a first local show for the Seattle artist. She is creating commentary, reminding us just how much junk we produce in our never-ending lust for the latest item, whether furniture, clothing or a tech device. But she also performs one of the redemptive functions of art: to take the thing we usually ignore and give it some visual grace.

Peck's medium is vinyl cutouts, of the kind used for commercial window or wall displays. That said, she pushes the medium where manufacturers never envisioned it would go. In depicting broken couches, every little flower in its decorative pattern and every little line that defines its creases and crevices is a separate cut form, no matter how intricate. This approach works well in small works on paper and in a big “Busted Buick” on the wall. It's an inventive style of image, picturing the car atop a trailer, its body severed into segments – portions angled this way and that to create the illusion of depth. At the same time, you can't help but read it as a flat form hugging the wall. There's a comic undercurrent to the brightly colored jumble, too. The effect in “Busted Buck” and other works is a kind of junk-heap cubism. It's hard to say this medium could serve her well for years to come, but it works well in this body of work.

She's designed an installation too, dubbed “Ocean Tarp.” It focuses on a jarring phenomenon: “The Eastern Garbage Patch,” aka “The Pacific Trash Vortex.” It's a mass of plastic debris afloat between California and Hawaii that is reportedly twice the size of Texas. Given this description, Peck's piece about it is anticlimactic. A multicolored tarp serves as an emblem of our collective desire to ignore such a massive blight on nature. But, in the gallery, it simply conceals a flat blue spherical form affixed to the floor. This just can't convey the disturbing dimensions of this nomadic mountain of garbage. The works on the wall are a far richer look at our connections and disconnections with nature and our perverse aptitude for filling the world with waste.

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