Karen Azoulay. Courtesy of CUE Art Foundation.
Curated by Glenn Ligon
The belief that runs through Ovid’s Metamorphoses ─ that all things are connected because all things can be transformed ─ is at the heart of Karen Azoulay’s project. In sculptural tableaus, performance pieces, and digital images, she creates worlds in which the line between body and object; material fact and representation; and the perceptible and the imperceptible is blurred.” ─Glenn Ligon
The fleeting and fluid aspects found in nature continue to captivate Canadian artist Karen Azoulay. Wading Under A Crackling Sky, features new sculptures, photographs, and a site-specific installation incorporating imagery of fireworks, nightscapes, and seascapes represented in staged scenarios reminiscent of the tradition of tableaux vivant. Azoulay captures these transitory atmospheric events through a performance-based aesthetic that enables the viewer to appreciate the stillness and poignancy at play. In her recent fantasy landscapes and environments, the artist employs set pieces and simple props constructed from basic materials and motifs culled from sources ranging from Renaissance figurative allegories, flat turn-of-the-century theatre props, and abstracted organic forms with eye-dazzling effect. By using meaningful motifs, which may appear static but contain a fluid ancestry, Azoulay explores the interrelationship between nature and the decorative.
Inspired by the dramatic stage sets often featured in Las Vegas reviews, Azoulay’s site-specific installation depicts a night sky formed from large panels, painted in dark colors with small areas embedded with stained glass, and features abstracted imagery of fireworks. Representing an expansive sea, yards of fabric replete with details of waves tumble forth directly in front of the panels. These compositional elements fill up the visual field like a 19th century panorama and offer multiple narratives. Adding to the mis-en scene, accompanying photographs of performers reacting to fireworks and cosmic explosions, or immersed in the turbulent blue-green water depicted in the installation, address the overall theme of being pulled up from the familiar and pushed into the unknown.
Azoulay’s visual alchemy involves deconstructing the structure and harnessing the tensile energy of select, ordinary materials in order to transform them into icons and symbols of natural phenomena. In Catching the Star, 2007, one of the photographs on view, the artist employs the cloth of a battered umbrella to create the illusion of a shooting star. Through the process of transformation, what once was a stationary means of protection from inclement weather is now free to roam through the skies without limitation. Wooden parasols, which form the basis for a grouping of five mixed-media sculptures, ranging in height from 6’ to 8’, become spectacles of color and light, and are placed together against a dark background to form a grand vision of fireworks exploding in the night.
The dynamism, scale, and handmade quality of the works on view vibrantly signal the artist’s desire to evoke the profound allure that a nature imagined holds over human emotions. Representing a study in contrasts, they harbor a degree of somberness within their dark tonality, yet also sustain impressions of enchantment and lightness. Ultimately, Azoulay’s sublime impressions engage the viewer to cast his or her own mood on to the surrounding scenes.