In his third solo exhibition at RARE, Johnston Foster continues his signature style of creating sculptures out of discarded materials that he finds strewn across highway medians, tossed into dumpsters, and abandoned in alleys. From this cultural detritus he takes an alchemist’s approach in creating work with open-ended narratives and imagery that at once celebrate, critique, and question the fragility and transitory nature of beauty and order in our world. In Summertime Blues, which takes its name from the rebellious rock ‘n roll classic about the trials and tribulations of teenage life in the perceived golden age of the 1950s, Foster shines a metaphorical light on worldwide unrest at a time of unprecedented technological advancement and wealth. The themes of social discontent, dissent, uprising, rebellion, and impending chaos permeate the four featured sculptures.
Wisdom and wealth are at odds with one another against the backdrop of turmoil that pervades Big Tipper (2008), a giant, two-headed Galapagos tortoise constructed from industrial plastic trash cans. Precariously balanced on its back is a luxurious dinner, replete with delicacies such as lobster, oysters, and champagne. Absurdity reigns in the contrast of the richness and lavishness of the meal to the impracticality of the dining surface on which it is served. Everything is askew and on the brink of calamity. The contrasting themes are further exaggerated by the fact that the tortoise, a creature representing knowledge and longevity, is juxtaposed against a table setting representing decadence and impermanence. Foster reminds us that despite our best intentions or well-meaning efforts, all good things come to an end.
The notion that things are on the brink of change or disaster carries through to a sculpture consisting of over fifty individual figures from all walks of life and social stations massed together in what seems to be an angry mob brandishing fists, weapons, and torches. In Mob Deep (2008), an overall sense of anger permeates the installation, but where that anger is directed remains ambiguous. Viewers may feel they have been placed in a position of being targets of aggression or that they are being extended an invitation to join the group. In Altered Beast (2008), the intimidating physicality of two flamboyant roosters pitched in battle once again places viewers in a treacherous position, this time as spectators to a violent and bloody cock fight. Constructed of garden hoses and multiple layers of high-density, brightly-colored plastic that have been shredded and feathered, the sculpture is set up so that the fight is seen in various stages simultaneously, as if through the prism of time-lapse photography. Foster situates the oversized birds on top of each other to give a sense of rapid and violent movement, hinting at the paired themes of power vs. weakness and order vs. chaos, while highlighting Man’s empirical tendencies.
The malignant result of these empirical tendencies can be seen in the giant, anatomically correct human heart made of found black-colored plastics, rubber, automobile parts, hoses, pipes, and luggage, which Foster has named Hole Lotta Love (2008). This work is on the one hand a literal translation of the idea of being “black-hearted” and on the other a symbol of a tainted and corrupt collective consciousness. For Foster, in an age of economic crisis, armed conflicts, and environmental chaos, it seems there really “ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.”