Whether a one-room apartment in a noisy city or a remote cabin in the woods, establishing a private place where we can rest and feel safe is a natural instinct. But at what point do our carefully constructed surroundings begin to smother us rather than provide us comfort? This is a question posed by Lairs, a thoughtful three-artist show at Honey Ramka in Bushwick that includes installation, painting, and digital video of places that are conspicuously absent of human presence.
The centerpiece of the show is Ben Finer’s eerie “You are a shovel (echo)” (2015), a theatrical sculpture of a dollhouse-sized mega mansion dropped in the middle of a mossy landscape, an extraterrestrial Middle Earth. The landscape is menacing. Its boulders look like they might get up and start walking around or swallow the house whole. This scene plays out against a temporary wall backlit with stars on one side and a moon on the other.
Even with its warm, comforting lights, the house itself is a tacky, foreign body in this context. It belongs in a suburb with a well-manicured lawn, the kind of sedated environment where if you don’t see other people for days, it doesn’t start to freak you out. Despite its solid, earnest construction, the house is a visitor here, a stand-in for its missing human inhabitants.
Finer’s previous work favors the grotesque via a variety of media, including drawings and film. If you peeled back its moody, not unpleasant, façade, “You are a shovel (echo)” would likely reveal something distorted, too. Less concealed, though equally lacking human presence, are Eileen Murphy’s five oil paintings on view. Three woodland landscapes depict rolling hills, late fall trees, and lush evergreens with slick paint that highlights their hyperreal tendencies.
Murphy’s two other paintings push reality even further to the margins. “Stone Barn North” (2013) depicts a stark room with a twin bed and simple living arrangements. The edges of the room are over-emphasized, while each object, almost clip-art-like, seems easily rearrangeable with the swipe of a finger or a mouse. This digitization (through paint) of a domestic setting is a clever way to make us question the reliability of what we’re seeing and push the real completely out of the picture.
Similarly, every object in the two videos by Mitch Patrick on view is struggling (actually, quivering) to stay grounded in its space. “Indexical_Weights” (2014) and “Safe_House” (2013) are both 3d renderings of workspaces. In the former, computers hum, a candle burns, canvases flutter, and a news channel’s crawl populates a TV on the wall. Everything is in motion, almost threateningly so, and still there is no evidence of a human hand in any of it.
“Safe_House,” on the other hand, is more menacing. Handheld devices that come to life on their own surround a burning pit. To one side, a ghostly outline of a person is the only nod to human life in the show. It’s clear that Patrick’s space and the others depicted in Lairs have lives of their own; people are merely incidental to their construction and probably irrelevant to their evolution. Perhaps those safe havens we build and seek, whether domestic or natural, real or fantastical, exist not because of us, but in spite of our efforts to claim them.
Lairs is on view at Honey Ramka (56 Bogart Street, Brooklyn, NY) through February 14.