BAR Magazine

Issue 02

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Containment

Review

by Anna Schuman

18 January 2018

Installation View, Eleanor Cepko

>Eleanor Cepko’s exhibition Containment is a self-described “abstract, contemporary, minimalist take on wunderkammer.” In place of the biological artifacts of natural history, Cepko’s porcelain sculptures transform the intimate A R E A gallery space into her own cabinet of curiosities.

In her work, Cepko imitates textures found in nature through the media of glazed porcelain and stoneware. Walking through Containment, it’s hard to imagine that the rough skin of an elephant, clinging moss, painted copper, or soft leather hide are anything other than the material they present themselves as.

In sharp contrast to the organic textures she employs, Cepko’s rectangular forms lend structure and rationality to her work. By combining stark angularity with organic elements, the formality of line appears to contain the more natural parts of her work. The relationship between the natural and the structural elements in Cepko’s work mirrors that of minimalist artists such as Robert Ryman or the early Korean Dansaekhwa.  You can feel the tension between where the artist is deliberate and controlled and when she lets chance take over.

We see Cepko’s aesthetic and structural contrast in in her choice of materials. In Untitled No.2, rectangular slabs of stoneware, marked with irregular creasing and folds are partially submerged in a sensuous inky black lacquer. The lacquer emphasizes the aridity of the stoneware, while the shagreened slabs intensify the richness of the black gloss. The piece reflects the containment of nature to create forced, artificial beauty. Cepko’s sculptures imply that the beauty and spontaneity of the natural world has been tamed by the human hand.

 

Photo Courtesy of Anna Schuman

The influence of minimalism is visible in Cepko’s experimentation with repetition. Her forms feel reminiscent of minimalist and conceptual artist Sol De Witt’s Serial Project (1966.) Both collections share grid-like arrangement and a mostly muted color palette. Unlike Le Witt however, Cepko contrasts the minimal severity with tactile richness. Instead of austere, factory-produced, industrial-inspired objects, she incorporates elements of nature, including irrationality, into her series of repeating forms. The structural organization of the porcelain pieces evoke ideas of categorization and cataloging, tying back to Cepko’s reference to the wunderkammer. The exhibit can feel scientific or museum-like, her sculptures specimens on display.

Contrast and tension run fluidly as themes in Containment in the form of rough versus smooth surfaces, amorphic shapes versus right angles, and chaotic nature versus the man-made. Eleanor Cepko produces these relationships in her work in a way that is both sensitive and visceral. The rich textures, complex patterns, and intricacies of Cepko’s work warrants an in-person visit. Containment will be on view at AREA’s Cambridge location through January 2018.