Sarah Perry


Sarah Perry at Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles
Artext, Spring 2002

The bare bones of it is this. Sarah Perry's new work reintroduces enchantment to art. Enchantment, that is, as with shamans and fetishes, or Joseph Beuys and Eva Hesse. Enchantment unmediated by anything but imagination. Anachronistic as this may be, Perry builds not-quite dioramas out of animal bones that she scavenges from desert excursions. Skeletal remains of horses, cattle, rodents, reptiles, they're all here, held together by screws and something called bone putty.

Mostly, Perry bares poetic disconnections. Beast of Burden (2001), almost ten feet high, is made from the leg- and jawbones of cows and horses. "Beasts of burden" such as the plough horse, that is, means of conveyance; indeed, the scope of this work reaches beyond the agricultural. The bones form a rocket ship, but an archaic one, like something out of Flash Gordon movies from the '30s. The way the pieces fit seems as if they had no other destiny than to provide the armature for a spacecraft and not the framework for the muscle and sinews of an actual beast of burden. The unlikely likeliness of the piece, the convergence of past and future, of organic and technological, suggests some manner of imagined world (I'm thinking Borges here). This is why the year of the piece's creation is significant. 2001 alludes to something apocalyptic, as in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The piece stands erect in the first gallery; it presages the rest of the show in the adjoining gallery, which is an unholy alliance of bone and road kill, a phoenix-like reincarnation that saddles faith in blind progress with recourse to creativity. Simultaneity of old and new, of science and magic: what else is this but alchemy?

Pull of the Moon (2001) is made out of amphibian, rodent and reptile, bones. It works, in the third dimension, like two paintings by Miro and Chagall in which ladders afford viewers (and lovers) a chance to ascend to the stars. Or at least, to free themselves from various terrestrial laws like gravity or syllogistic logic. Ditto here. Whereas Perry wrought Beast of Burden from large bones, this piece employs small ones. She constructs a circular staircase that ends abruptly, leading nowhere in particular. It issues from a pile of bones at its base. This implies that it is a work in progress, a perpetual motion of wonderment, and that it will continue to grow ever upward as long as a steady stream of bones feeds it. The implied "nightmare" suggests its derivation, some nocturnal winged steed that takes sleepers off to dreamland.

Astonish, that's what all these pieces do. Take May All Your Dreams Come True (1999), made out of rodent and reptile bones, wood, and encased in a Plexiglas cube. A Wizard of Oz tornado that was itself only a meteorological figment of Dorothy's dream. Like the Cheshire Cat's grin, it resonates with the beyond. Then there's Bound for Glory (2000), a desiccated crow partially encased in a small rocket ship, wrapped in twine, and pointed skyward, mounted on a steel rod. Lastly, each piece reminds us of art's capacity to spook and enchant, entertain and query. No creature of a modernist laboratory, this work conjures the idea that art derives from deserts and caves; that it can usher in the outdoors, resort to first principles of magic; philosophize, wax poetic, or scare the bejesus out of its viewers. Sarah Perry creates fragile and precious things. They're like porcelain so exquisite are they. Moreover, they resemble porcelain in that they are created from bone. Sun-bleached, feral (and in the case of Beast of Burden, malodorous) bone. Including the heads of various predators: small but piercing, all bared teeth. It's the artist as cheeky taxidermist. One who seamlessly melds fetish and finish to turn us inside out, to make us not just feel the pull of the moon but actually shed our sophistication and howl at it.