By Olivia Jia
Through October 25
Scott Kip: Transitional Objects at Marginal Utility transforms a relatively small, one-room exhibition space into a labyrinthine and expansive installation. The show is comprised of two main rooms, which the viewer experiences as a voyeur. The carefully plotted layout takes the viewer through a series of dimly lit platforms, stairways, ladders, and tunnels. Proceeding through these passageways, the atmosphere grows darker, and the installation’s architecture further constricts the body. The experience is not unlike a descent into the bowels and the psyche—the subject of the show is perhaps the artist himself, or perhaps a nameless individual whom the viewer encounters not through name or face, but through the objects and spaces they have left behind.
The first platform is beyond a few tight bends and a small flight of stairs. Here, the viewer looks through a window into an attic-like space, which is filled with various objects that seem to build a portrait of an absent dweller: photographs, architectural plans, books, and wooden objects arranged according to the intimate organizational logic of this unseen person, whose belongings our eyes invade. At eye level, there is a wooden rail holding a mirror contraption that slides closer or further away as the viewer moves a magnifying glass atop a brass scale.
At zero, the mirror is pressed against the window, reflecting the viewer’s own face. As it recedes in space, the mirror reveals other objects. Presumably, each object holds significance from a specific period in the unseen subject’s life and acts as a landmark or time capsule. Kip reminds the viewer of a physical object’s ability to lend credence, specificity, and material weight to oft-ephemeral memory. I am reminded of the method of loci, an ancient mnemonic device in which the association of information with physical locations bestows a greater capacity for memorization. Here, the reflected objects imply logic to memory. They lend physicality to an unseen subject’s repository of experiences. The viewer becomes aware of the innumerable objects and memories that lie in between these markers of time, implied but never to be unearthed. There is a poignant futility in the notion of cataloguing memory or life through objects—their relevancy is inaccessible without context. Therefore, Kip’s ‘transitional objects’ illustrate the relationship we inherently hold with others in the world. We are forced to objectify and never to fully comprehend.
The next platform holds a clock with no hands or increments, and a ladder that descends into depths unknown. The face of the clock appears to be a reflection of a mechanism at its base, a small ball of wire rolling endlessly around the perimeter of a circle. As in the case of any clock, its rotation marks the passage of time. Yet without any namable measurement, the clock serves only as a marker for the unrelenting and uncompromising rhythm of time’s fleeting gait: moments barely grasped, and moments already gone.
Particularly if the installation is experienced in solitude, climbing down the ladder is surprisingly difficult. Though it is clear that Kip invites the viewer to do so, there is a strange and foreboding expectation of the things that may lie beneath the floorboards upon which the viewer currently stands. The following segment of the installation is a small crawlspace. Draped in voluminous black fabric and coupled with the turning of the path, it is easy to feel spatially disoriented (those familiar with Marginal Utility’s layout may be especially confused and surprised by Kip’s reconfiguration of the space).
At the end of this passageway, the viewer climbs atop a second ladder. Here, one peers down into a tall-yet-cramped space, which holds a beaten armchair, a lamp, and an old rotary telephone. The cradle of the telephone sits on a wooden crate, and its receiver lies on the floor, as if dropped midway through a conversation. The space is claustrophobic. With no windows and no doors, the room becomes something of a prison. It is perhaps the interior of the mind, cursed to the fundamental aloneness of human existence. Or it may be the direct aftermath of mortality: sparse are the objects we ultimately leave behind, in comparison to the rich complexity of a life long-lived.
Mortality is a subject rarely contemplated in the absence of personal emotion or its inevitable implications on the self, precisely because of its universality. Death is a common occurrence, and we often restrict the experience of grief or anxiety to ourselves or the deaths of those we hold dear. Transitional Objects allows the viewer an intimate glimpse into the implied mortality of an unseen and unnamed subject, for whom we do not experience grief in the usual sense. Rather, Kip’s installation emphasizes the universal nature of mortality, and forces the viewer to confront the poignancy of death through the objects that remain and the narratives they produce.
The objects in the installation serve as time capsules, imbued with memory and significance. The romantic aura in Kip’s arrangement of objects is reminiscent of Mark Dion’s installations (Octagon Room comes to mind), yet Kip’s installation is far less dependent upon known systems of codification or archiving to reach a point. Rather, Kip allows the objects to form meaning not necessarily in relation to each other, but through the subjectivity of the occupant who has since vacated these domestic spaces. Despite any length of contemplation, the objects remain esoteric. I was aware that they represent a specific personal narrative, yet that information is profoundly absent and impossible for the viewer to excavate. Therefore, Kip’s installation becomes something of a tomb – the relics of an inaccessible and silent life displayed in absence of the one who may speak to their significance. We the viewers must decipher them as hieroglyphs etched in stone.
Kip’s installation is best experienced in solitude. Transitional Objects emphasizes the relationship between the present viewer and the absent subject viewed, and through this relationship the show speaks on the human condition. The self as a subject is trapped by his or her inability to penetrate the experiences or thoughts of another. In the wake of mortality, the voyeur must unearth reason, memory, experience, emotion, and all other things that constitute a human being, from banal objects whose meanings change in the transition from personal to public, from meaningful to meaningless.
Olivia Jia is a senior in the BFA Interdisciplinary Fine Arts department at the University of the Arts.