March 3 – 25, 2012
By Eva Piatek
Amidst the confusing road construction currently taking over Girard Avenue between Frankford Avenue and 2nd Street, a hidden oasis awaits, tucked away in Michelle Muzyka ‘s exhibition of cut-paper sculptures at the Slingluff Gallery. Her show Efflorescence marks the contrast between the delicacies of nature and the harshness of man-made infrastructure. Meticulously cut patterns of petal-like forms adorn the walls of the gallery, similar to untamed tufts of vegetation sprawling across the exteriors of abandoned houses.
Muzyka’s cut paper works fill the tiny space with an air of elegance, serenity, and wonder. Everything is white, evoking a sense of purity and drawing attention to the materiality of paper. In the middle of the gallery, a pipe made of cut paper runs just below the ceiling to connect the two walls, where additional sections of paper pipe connect to the adjacent floor. Muzyka’s approach is so detailed that she even cuts out the nuts and bolts that would normally secure heavy industrial pipes, transforming them to appear light and airy. Tangled around these pipes are graceful floral patterns, suspended to hang like willow tree branches or float dreamily in space. As pleasing as these intricate sculptures are, they essentially imitate the growth patterns of fungus and mold, suddenly casting a slightly disturbing tinge over the otherwise beautiful work. In constructing such organisms, Muzyka comments on the dichotomy between nature and civilization, as well as the process of decomposition itself. The overgrowth of petal shapes and crystal-like formations clustered around the pipes speak of nature’s ability to regenerate itself and overcome any artificial materials that may obscure it. By representing the organic and synthetic with the same medium and pure white color, perhaps Muzyka suggests that the two can cohabitate, sprouting into something that restores a harmonious balance to our damaged ecosystem.
To complement Muzyka’s interest in this decomposition and growth process, she has also included works she calls scientific illustrations, consisting of sample-sized cut paper sculptures and sewn thread integrated within a paper frame. With titles of made-up scientific names like Specimen of Albaceae Tentorium and Specimen of Chartacae Apertique, these works intend to describe the individual instances of fungal growth patterns as seen in their natural habitat. Not knowing these intentions, which are only made obvious from reading Muzyka’s statement, one can appreciate these works for their sheer beauty and meticulous craft. Perhaps the most fascinating element of these “specimens” is the interplay of positive and negative spaces created by their shadows, which also occurs in the larger works. In the smaller sculptures, the shadows add form and dimension to the cutout shapes, while in the larger installation pieces, they project onto the walls to multiply the growth of the fungal organisms, making the viewer even more aware of nature’s takeover.
One of the most eye-catching works, Membranaceae Canere, takes center-stage by the front window of the gallery in the form of a large gramophone. Streams of floral organisms cascade out of the horn in a lyrical fashion, bestowing the rest of the structures in the space with a musical quality. Like the pipes, the gramophone represents an abandoned manufactured entity that now overflows with the fantastical organisms that germinate within its crevices.
Even the outside of the gallery teems with Muzyka’s cutout sculptures, where garlands of her petal shapes drape over the façade. On Girard Avenue, rubble left behind from the stripped pavement and torn out trolley tracks, industrial piping, and other construction materials become exposed for new things to burgeon within. This deconstructed concrete jungle provides a perfect backdrop to the constructed paper forest of Efflorescence. If only the potholes and chasms on Girard Avenue could be analogously colonized by a similar growth of wonders, allowing nature to creep its way into the streets.
Born, raised, and still here in Philadelphia, Eva Piatek is a jack of all trades but is currently pursuing her MA in Art History at Tyler School of Art. She enjoys dabbling in the city’s art scene, has had a few curatorial gigs here and there, and hopes to maybe open her own gallery someday.