by Denise Holland

Lara Favaretto
Village of the Damned (detail), 2009

Many of the pieces in Lara Favaretto’s first Canadian solo show at rennie collection this summer are constantly in flux. Crumbling, spinning, floating—the pieces often flirt with their own destruction. The show runs until October 31st and will likely not be the same show you came to see in June. Favaretto surrenders her work to chance and allows time to chip away and transform what we see.

Wrapped in cheer on the outside with confetti, party horns, and whirling brushes, Favaretto’s dark wit quickly knocks us off our celebratory path into the groundlessness of modern life. Futility, monotony, and tension are the underpinnings to this painstaking party of oddities, constantly shifting and unpredictable.

Favaretto courageously embraces the ephemeral, no matter what it brings, and lets time and gravity have the final say. The grey confetti cubes in Village of the Damned (2014) were installed by Favaretto herself one week before the show opened. Plywood cubes were filled with confetti and trampled on to compress the mountain of paper dots. The plywood sides were then removed revealing a solid cube of confetti, held together only by compression—no glue, no strings, no tricks. Favaretto then walked away and left the cubes to their fate.

During the first few days, the confetti fell continuously in small pieces and chunks, like an ice block or glacier melting in the sun. By the end of the first week, the cube slowed its shedding to the point where now you would be hard pressed to wait long enough to see even one piece of confetti fall over several hours. It is still difficult to imagine that the cubes will be reduced to a mound of confetti as in Favaretto’s past installations.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres
“Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.), 1991
(image source: mark6mauno on flickr)

The cubes appear solid but hints of natural forces are at work—the top of the cubes are now uneven, perhaps implying a possible collapse from within. Every day brings barely perceptible changes and a tension and a longing for disintegration to occur on a grander and accelerated scale. Visitors need to hold themselves back from touching the blocks to knock confetti free—some even fantasize about jumping headlong onto the cube. As viewers, we are simultaneously mesmerized and annoyed with these silent shapes that move too slowly for our immediate viewing entertainment. Infuriatingly tactile, but not touchable, the blocks create tension and frustration in our minds. We are longing to see them fall.

Artists courageously embrace the ephemeral to create moving, transformational works that make us stop and think in ways that static work cannot. Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled” (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) (1991) is a strikingly simple mound of candy stacked in the corner of a room. Visitors are invited to take a sweet and eat it in memory of his partner Ross’ death from AIDS. The pile’s weight is the same as Ross’ before he contracted the disease and the weight is replenished with new sweets as it wears down. Ever changing, the pile speaks volumes beyond its simple form, of deeply relevant topics of the time including AIDS, disease, and homosexuality. The shifting, changing, and interactive nature of this pile helps us relate more specifically to the body, life, and challenges that Ross faced.

Another example of an artist experimenting with the ephemeral is Kara Walker. In 2014, Walker installed Sugar Baby, a giant sphinx-like monument that is covered in 30 tons of sugar, at the Domino Sugar Factory in New York. The main “mammy sphinx” figure emulates the posture of the sphinx. With a clenched fist, the figure is naked except for the typical headscarf worn by many Southern Black women. Walker says she created the art installation as homage to the unpaid and overworked women, who refine sugar from sugarcane to the sugar many of us consume every day. Oversized child attendants to the sphinx that were cast in candy nearly all melted away after several months. A dozen others, cast in plastic and coated in sugar are being placed in public institutions. The left hand of the sphinx has been preserved as Walker’s only souvenir of the work.

Why was Walker attracted to sugar as a material? In an interview with Artnet News, she answered, “for its temporality, that it’s here and then it’s gone”*. Artists that explore the ephemeral courageously express themselves, only to have their manifestations disintegrate before their eyes.

Kara Walker
Sugar Baby, 2014
(image source: victoriabelanger on flickr)

In a similar vein, Favaretto leaves the sculpting to chance in Tutti gui per terra (We all fall down) (2004) featuring one ton of confetti, constantly shifting into landscape-like mounds by large fans. An upbeat take on confetti compared to the Village of the Damned, a sombreness remains. The confetti landscapes barely resemble confetti. Only the lucky ones seem to dislodge themselves, occasionally to be catapulted into the air, flitting frantically and eventually settling to another place, where they will likely not move for some time to come. The only constant is the shifting and changing. Every moment is different than the last.

Pablo Picasso stated, “every act of creation is first an act of destruction”.** Favaretto has us witness destruction itself head on. The destruction is her creation. In Simple Couples (2009), paired car wash brushes spin randomly against a metal plate, slowly disintegrating themselves over time. And yet no one would argue with the beauty of this destruction. The brushes spin elegantly like dancers in life, the destruction making them all the more relatable to being human.

There is courage required on the part of the artist to tackle art using ephemeral means. The constant change of the process seems to be the perfect reflection of life itself in all its disaster and glory. Destruction also makes space for new manifestations. The transformation of the brushes, the confetti cubes and the confetti room are all beautiful, transcendent and painfully real. When we embrace that life and the human condition is about constant change and making the best of each moment, whatever comes our way, then life can become more beautiful or at minimum more acceptable. Favaretto presents us with the moment of coming undone and what we do with it may make all the difference in the world.

*Sutton, Benjamin. “Kara Walker on her Bittersweet Colossus”, ArtNet News, May 8, 2014. Web.
**Famous Pablo Picasso Quotes. 2009. Web.