Bullseye Gallery, Portland, OR
by Richard Speer
In it’s not living alone..., sculptor and installation artist Silvia Levenson stepped into the long shadow that childhood trauma casts onto adult life. The artist used photographs, modified Ikea furniture, and kiln-cast glass to convey the fragility and threat of danger lurking beneath the family unit’s cozy façade.
In the series Album di Famiglia, she coated black-and-white family photos with an armor-like glass overlay, then painted red forms emerging from the heads of her parents, her sister, and herself. These forms could be read as vegetal sproutings or licks of fire, suggesting that the bonds that nurture growth in early life, can ignite and ravage the psyche as time passes and neuroses take hold. Furthering this premise were toys in the shape of gnomes and Disney characters, counterposed against a shadow box called Camoflage II, in which 16 pastel-colored hand grenades sat behind glass panes etched with the word for “love” in different languages.
The altered Ikea easy chair, pillow, ottoman, and floor lamp that comprised the installation The Sitting Room undermined yuppified domesticity by overlaying hard glass tiles over fabric and stitching them together with sharp wires, which stuck up like porcupine quills. This was no cushy cocoon; this was “home” as a Scandanavian-designed hell. In Life Strategies, Levenson took aim at the use of mood-elevating drugs as a panacea to balm the wounds of childhood. With its floor tiles inscribed with the brand names of antidepressants and its droll video projection of a housewife on the verge of alcoholic and pharmacologic meltdown, the piece dramatized the enduring escapist power of what used to be called “Mommy’s Little Helper.” In the manner of a forensic inquiry, the show examined the harrowing legacy of family dysfunction and the ways in which the past haunts the present.
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