Buoys guide us through seas both calm and uneasy, and they play a central function within the exhibit of new sculpture by Shasti O’Leary Soudant, DO NOT MISTAKE OUR SOFTNESS FOR WEAKNESS, on view now at Eleven Twenty Projects. This exhibition of new sculpture by O’Leary Soudant plays off of her past touchstones of successive, iterative forms forged from Rigidized powder-coated stainless steel, operating within the color range of day-glo orange to drag queen chartreuse. Past works have been performative and seductive, but all have focused upon multiplicity of natural forms.
O’Leary Soudant’s buoys – each part of a wooden series titled “Priapic Yin” – are peppered throughout; they sit on shelves at eye level and successively mutate as they march along the periphery of the space. They exist as libidinal, priapic beings. Their erect nature and orange affect echoes the banality of traffic cones, but they have been cut down, slender, eschewing utilitarian function in favor of a bespoke, oar-like form. This form in particular – triangular and curved, with an impossibly slender middle – becomes a recurring motif within the exhibition itself. These wooden buoys, whose tips are by turns mint ting-a-ling, and striped baby pink, become both the entry and egress point into the rest of the exhibition. Their attractive nature and seductive color become a vector point through which viewers can investigate and unpack some of the most urgent, personal, and Feminist work the artist has produced within her career.
When speaking to O’Leary Soudant prior to the exhibition’s opening, she spoke of the importance of confrontation within her personal art making practice saying “…when you make something powerful, by its nature it confronts… [my mission] is to deliberately look beneath the surface of all things.” What is most significant about this exhibition and this new body of work is how the artist couches it within her own personal development and bodily chronology. She thinks of the buoys, specifically, in relation to map making, in relation to claiming psychic territory, and as a means of grappling with her own bodily changes as she advances further into womanhood. She relates her art and her practice in similar terms to her body; as a constant arrival, and a constant re-tacking into the winds of change. So the idea of making buoys in the face of mapping new territory and charting the bodily unknown becomes an act of defiance in addition to the idea of making talismans of safe passage for both the external and internal self.
The other two prongs of this exhibition tie into O’Leary Soudant’s prior work through her use of powder coated aluminium sculpture. Where the “Priapic Yin” series felt solid and grounded within it’s objecthood, the “Burst Star” series feels mercurial in comparison. Each Burst Star is comprised of overlapping, powder coated circles of stainless steel, which have rays racing out from their celestial body, and when intermeshed form a glowing optical illusion. These pieces feel like looking into the sun after being lost at sea with saltwater tinged eyes. They are bright with no warmth, and appear so chaotic that if you were to close your eyes, you may miss the instant it collapses inward upon itself.
The second “Priapic Yin” series is a spiritual successor to the wooden “Priapic Yin” buoys. Where the first series was approachable and could be intimately examined, this parade of stainless steel, powder coated priapic personages exist beyond the human scale; working back into O’Leary Soudant’s lingua franca of making the banal familiar, and making the familiar confrontational. These ribbon-corseted totems are held upright through an internal skeleton of a lightning rod and two footballs and as they process across the gallery space they become ever more bulbous, ever more voluminous, shifting in both their candor and tone. They are transformed from slender, 3-sided probing rods into swollen, 8-sided hourglass figures that seem ready to float away upon the crest of a strange new wave.
The tension of this exhibition is within the making of the buoy figures, specifically. Whether they are made up of wood or powder-coated stainless steel, the presence of buoys denotes the demarcation of territory. Shasti O’Leary Soudant’s artwork speaks within voices both wide and discrete, and in this exhibition it is meant to be a whisper that is only audible in moments of quiet. It is the voice of reconstitution, and of resolving to mark new territory and time, even in the uncertain, dusky face of a sea of upheaval.
Shasti O’Leary Soudant’s DO NOT MISTAKE OUR SOFTNESS FOR WEAKNESS is on view now at Eleven Twenty Projects through October 19, 2018. More information can be found at eleventwentyprojects.com.