Crystal Wagner’s “Microcosm” Transforms Paper into Enchanting Neon Terrariums

Shredded plastic tablecloths, chicken wire, and hand-printed paper combine in Crystal Wagner’s immersive mixed-media installations, several of which twist and turn through entire rooms.

Using synthetic materials to mimic natural forms, Wagner draws attention to the beauty of organic shapes as well as the overabundance of mass-produced plastic. Built on an armature of chicken wire, her giant sculptures feature a series of concave and convex forms that coalesce in a strong visual effect. She runs multicolored plastic tablecloths through each hole in the chicken wire, thus forming the topography of an undulating landscape.

Her site-specific work—including in Viacom’s building in Times Square and the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art—responds not just to correlated interior architecture but to the presence of people passing through. The massive, time-consuming endeavor is akin to a performance. “There are people watching you the entire time,” Wagner has said of her process. “Every decision you make is revealed and no part of what you are going…through is hidden.”

In Alluvion (2016), for instance, several shades of white, blue, and green swirl together in a waterfall-like form. The sprawling sculpture was fabricated from bits of a birthday party tablecloth and screen-printed paper, all atop chicken wire. As its name implies—alluvion relates to the action of water forming new land by deposition—the work considers vast environmental change, natural and manmade.

Microcosm,” Wagner’s second solo show at Hashimoto Contemporary in San Francisco, features smaller, boxed-in paper works that look alive with electric organisms. These terrarium-like pieces, several of which appeared in her show at the Virginia MOCA, maintain Wagner’s underlying interest in earthly transformations and biomorphic shapes. Against the stark black background, the paper fungi and neon mold look like black light posters come to life.


—Anna Furman


Crystal Wagner: Microcosm” is on view at Hashimoto Contemporary, San Francisco, Jun. 30–Jul. 23, 2016.

Discover more artists at Hashimoto Contemporary.

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