Dirty and Clean
January 29 to June 10, 2012
San Francisco-based artist Kathryn Spence is inspired by nature in the production of her sculptures and installations. Using found, dirty, and discarded materials in order to point to the invasion of the natural environment by human-produced garbage, she accurately re-creates wildlife from scraps of paper, fabric, string, and wire. The avid birder and lover of nature is capable of distinguishing particular species from a great distance and able to create animals portraying clear, distinct personalities and identities with incredible exactitude.
Spence's nuanced, obsessive, and busy gathering of seemingly "dirty" used materials has its counterpart in the way she impeccably reorganizes them in the sculptures. When seen from afar, works such as Untitled (2005–6) may bring to mind an unquenched desire for accumulation and the notion of pathological hoarding, yet Spence's works are overtaken by the greater compulsion of organization. On closer inspection, her ordering of the materials in stacks, piles, and bundles, and the balanced composition of the overall cluster, allows us to find relationships and commonalities amongst all the parts. We may even find immense beauty in these orderly accumulations.
Paradoxically, the artist considers that on occasion her work takes the opposite approach: she dirties the gathered materials because the dirt distances them from "consumer" sensibility; in those cases it is the dirt that "cleans" the sculptures. By "cleaning" her materials of foreign and extraneous matter (either dirt or consumerism) and making this process the basis for her practice, she is appealing to the notion of cleansing—and, perhaps, grooming—as a social activity that scientists believe creates bonds and builds trust amongst the members of a community. In Spence's artworks, the back and forth between "dirty and clean" is a conciliatory exercise between nature and human, animal and human, self-sufficiency and consumerism.
Top of page: Kathryn Spence, Short sharp notes, a long whistled trill on one pitch, clear phrases, 2010
Courtesy of the artist and Stephen Wirtz Gallery, San Francisco