“What separates human from animal?” asks ceramist and mixed-media artist Lindsay Pichaske. “What borders exist between real and imagined, beautiful and repugnant, animate and inanimate?” These are among the questions underlying the strange menagerie that has recently taken up residence at Duane Reed Gallery in the artist’s intimate new solo exhibition. Through each one of the carefully crafted animal sculptures on view, she challenges biological taxonomies, busting boundaries between species by merging their features and forms to create hybrid beings that are much more than the sum of their manifold parts.
There is, for example, The One That Got Away (2014), a wall-mounted head, which, at first, looks like a gazelle. But something, many things, are subtly off: its pelt is oddly mottled and fluffy; its face is too purely white; its eyes are blue and uncannily human; and its gracefully curving horns seem to go on for too long. Closer inspection reveals that where there should be fur there are chicken feathers, a jarring avian-mammalian juxtaposition made all the more extreme by their seamless integration into one form. Chicken feathers also grow out of a standing, deer-like creature, oppositely titled, The One That Stayed (2014). The feathers cover only its ears and hooves. The rest of its body, including its impossibly elongated legs, is a hairless, deep charcoal black, causing it to appear otherworldly, ghostlike, hovering between life and death, or, perhaps, an afterlife. The Hare (2014), a crimson sculpture of a reclining hare, also seems at once alive and dead. While its lush coloring and articulated musculature suggests alertness, it also looks like it has been skinned.
Pichaske sees herself as operating within what she calls “the traditions of the grotesque and uncanny,” and always at the intersections between “the familiar and strange.” This is most apparent in Ghost of Snow (2013), a sculpture of an ape, our closest animal relative. With its thoughtful mien and delicately seated posture, it embodies and exudes humanness, compelling a sense of connection, of a shared identification, exactly as the artist intends. “Once we identify with them,” she says of her interspecies inventions, “we admit that perhaps the definitions they upturn are not so clearly defined as we think.”
“Lindsay Pichaske” is on view at Duane Reed Gallery May 23 – June 21, 2014.