Our world rolls efficiently forward as a container of and for things. Whether such things are smart phones or shoes, cars or lattes, books or pencils, they have quite a hold on us and they testify to our passage through this life. And while some of these things — these everyday artifacts of our sundry techniques — may certainly arrive more alacritous and slick than others, they are still merely “things,” the material stuff that occludes secrets and systems rather than illuminate them. Unless, of course, you do what Jessica Drenk has done with “Aggregates,” at Galleri Urbane, and turn everyday things into art.
Books and pencils make up the majority of the everyday materials from which Drenk constructs her works. The pencil pieces, particularly “Implement 9” and “Formation,” have been fixed together and sanded down into forms resembling woody or rocky shapes we might very well run across in nature. She has effectively returned the pencil’s wood and lead to a re-created origin. And what she does with books is no less engaging. With “Cerebral Mapping 2” and “Bibliophylum, Installation 4,” she fashions book shavings and slivers into organic forms born of her own imaginings.
Jessica Stockholder and Sarah Sze do this in their own respective ways, as do DFW’s own Cassandra Emswiler and Kristen Cochran. These artists, for example, often find trips to the hardware store or a garage sale more efficacious than ones to the art supply shop. So much ordinary stuff has already accumulated around us that there seems an almost moral imperative to start doing something with it other than storing it or using it according to its conventionally intended purpose. Along these lines, what makes Drenk’s pieces interesting is the place to which she takes her everyday materials: she sends them home. It’s an invented home to be sure, but one referencing something natural and organic nonetheless. Thanks to her craft, the works have a lovely, if synthetic, naturalness about them, a sense of what the everyday things once were before we humans appropriated them, a sense of where they came from before we transformed them.
Andy Amato is a Dallas-based artist, writer and teacher
(This review first appeared in Arts+Culture Magazine)