Chillin’ at the Oasis: Kirstin Mitchell at Hathaway Contemporary

E.C. Flamming

Jun 23, 2017

Burnaway

 

Everything at Kirstin Mitchell’s latest show conjures a feeling of tranquility, beginning with the exhibition title “Midnight at the Oasis.” Mitchell’s exhibition, her first at Hathaway, comprises color gradient paintings, sculptures, and rubber canvases that combine to create one woozy experience. In her artist statement, Mitchell notes that the word oasis most likely evolved from the Hamitic word for “dwelling place.” Her oasis is less of a dwelling place, and more of a sinking place, a space to melt.

In addition to showing considerable technical skill through nearly imperceptible changes in color, the gradient paintings, rendered in acrylic latex, contribute most directly to the atmosphere. Some are calming, like Window I and Window II, appropriately named as it appears we are looking out an actual window at an impossibly serene evening sky. Others project a noticeably different energy, such as the bright red Window III. Either way, the palette evokes a distinct mood and persuades the viewer to lean in.

As explained in her artist statement, Mitchell included the sculptures to “interrupt or harmonize with the landscape.” Harmonize, yes, but interrupt? The sculptures don’t function as an interruption, exactly. Rather, they simply exist as a separate part of the whole. They’re funny, too—Einswein II (linga) greets visitors in all its oblong red latex glory. Located discreetly above an information box and light switch, it’s easy to miss.. The phallic shape (“linga,” in Hindi, means “phallus”) and the way it’s tucked above the fray makes it seem like a secret joke. The other sculptures in the space also amuse, side-eyeing with innuendo. Einswein IV (orbie) and Einswein VII (nudi), two slightly squished round sculptures, are particularly loud, with their breastlike shapes staring up at us from Hathaway’s extraordinarily glossy floor.

The showstoppers of “Midnight at the Oasis” are arguably the rubber canvases. Large pieces of red, yellow, black, white and blue rubber are draped, stretched, and folded in elegant and naturalistic ways. Limousine, parked on a wall of its own, acts as a kind of pun. Mitchell explains that the word limousine originally referred to a caped cloak worn in Limousin, France, and was later applied to the luxury car’s similar silhouette. Limousine’s draped black neoprene functions as a visual representation of both cloak and car, not entirely one or the other.

This exhibition is meant to play with “how our own bodies and psyches wish to participate,” and the rubber canvases contribute to that intention. They hang heavily, as if the wooden panels were skeletons holding up aging bodies. Mitchell knew the material would be enticing and included a small swatch of the rubber material on an information placard. For the record, the rubber is lighter and airier than you might expect, and unnervingly soft and smooth, a little too skinlike for comfort.

Leaving the exhibition space is like stepping out of a pool or some other immersive environment that engages the senses. “Midnight at the Oasis” is a place to breathe, and exist, and feel, to escape our daily onslaught of images and information. Is it a real escape? As far as Mitchell’s concerned, it as real as we want it to be, for as long as we want it to be.

“Midnight at the Oasis” is on view at Hathaway Contemporary through July 11.

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