Time and Process in Breaker by Maggie Casey 

At Napoleon

On view through August 29th

By Olivia Jia

Maggie Casey’s work is a meditation on making.  Her show at Napoleon comprises three sculptural works: Breaker (the centerpiece and the title of the exhibition), Breadbasket, and Untitled. Breaker is the piece that launched the others – Breadbasket and Untitled are extensions of the themes explored within the first work. 

She created Breaker over the span of approximately five months. Each day, she poured a colored puddle of plaster over a tin foil mold, and rotated and extended the foil until the final piece resembled a rolling wave. The colors are muted yet distinct; they mottle the surface in a physical map of Casey’s process. Like the rings of a tree, Breaker’s colors describe the sculpture’s growth. With most of the foil removed, with the exception of pieces embedded in crevices, the method of Breaker’s production is nearly impossible to discern. The surface has the delicacy of crumpled paper, yet the curved walls of the structure are solid and heavy. 

Casey pushes the boundaries of how the viewer visually identifies plaster. All the traditional associations with the material – its solidity, its weight, and its place within art history as a casting material – are elements that she obscures. The only aspect of the work that betrays its inscrutable nature is the foil remaining in the crevices. Breaker immediately struck me with its bodily presence. Though its materially ambiguous form is the furthest thing from the carefully modeled limbs of classical figurative sculpture, Breaker’s size (about five feet long) and organic structure immediately evoke flesh.

Casey investigates the theme of the organic body as structure in the other two works within the show. While Breaker lightly references the home environment through the cushioned table onto which it is placed, Breadbasket directly addresses the relationship between objet d’arte and utilitarian furnishing. This piece consists of a small object made of dough that is similar in shape to Breaker. The dough is nestled within a cage-like drawer that is affixed to the wall. Here, Casey highlights the relationship between organic and artificial. The drawer is something that might be purchased from IKEA and assembled through a step-by-step process.  The industrial form of the drawer traps its organic contents.

Untitled, the third piece in the show, hangs behind Breaker on the right wall. Where Breaker is a form with its aluminum skin removed, and Breadbasket emphasizes its exoskeleton, Untitled possesses a plastic membrane. The piece is constructed of three units, each made of rope and pigment within a clear plastic cover, piled atop one another. The bottom two units are loosely trapped within a drooping grey net that draws a relationship to the structured cage of Breadbasket.

As a complete exhibition, Breaker is tied together by the themes of temporality and methods of making. Though much of the physical elements of the central piece were realized through the inherently imprecise act of pouring, the seemingly arbitrary aspects of the work are firmly organized by daily routine and regulated decision making, such as the choice to incrementally rotate the piece or to color the plaster differently day by day. In the finished work, time may be visually measured by both rotation and color.

Breadbasket juxtaposes the effects of time on organic materials with the stagnant and mechanical assembly of man-made structures. The importance of step-by step directed assembly reminded me of Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings; the sculpted dough is individual and ephemeral, yet the mechanically fabricated structure housing it may be assembled an infinite number of times by consulting the instruction manual. Here, the handmade nature of Breaker clashes with industrial reproduction. Like LeWitt’s wall drawings, any individual with the materials and instruction manual may assemble these shelving units.

Untitled is different from the other works – unlike Breadbasket or Breaker, the materials in Untitled are easily identified. Its relationship to time is the frozen moment, with the heavy, vein-like ropes straining beneath their plastic skins. The decay in Breadbasket emphasizes the different timeframes at play. Breaker, the five month project, masquerades as immediacy and spontaneity, whereas Untitled exists locked in a specific moment before bursting. Untitled is perpetually on the precipice, but betrayed by its structural integrity.

Olivia Jia is a painting student at the University of the Arts. She is interested in aesthetic philosophy and writing, and hopes to integrate these pursuits with her studio work.