In combining their practices, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky have created a specific dialogue, one that centers on a formal exchange and a continued interest in simplifying the terms of their visual surroundings in an attempt to see what the other sees. For their exhibition at the CAG, Rhonda Weppler and Trevor Mahovsky presented a sculptural series of these formal conversations, which used base materials to geometrically represent common and household objects. They continued this dialogue in the windows in two dimensional terms, graphically rendering and extending their conversation.
To reduce the ideas within Trevor Mahovsky and Rhonda Weppler’s sculptural objects to one concern would be to say that everything has a surface recognition and that their works are constructed in order to test just how little information is needed to obtain this recognition. For their solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Mahovsky and Weppler presented a sculptural series of formal conversations that used base materials to geometrically represent everyday manufactured objects. Their sculptures used basic shapes, solid bands of colors and common materials to create representations of mass produced products from a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket to a sugar cube. They reconstructed these common objects into simple proportional forms, carving a block out of wood, painting it yellow to represent a pound of butter, often using the same forms over and over again. Two identically sized wood-carved blocks, became tissue boxes with the simple action of painting an oval on its face; their minimal gesture of painting one oval black and the other white gave the impression that one is empty and the other full.
Of their sculptures most were reproductions of product containers. They collected empty fast-food containers, cups and aluminum cans from their immediate surroundings to use for casts. The original forms defined what the sculptures were going to look like. Although the casts recorded the minute textural details specific to each container, they all shared a generic quality; they were symmetrical with no undercuts; and each cast had been painted to reflect its original colour. But even the colour choices were limited to premixed colours; they used the same brown to signify coffee or gravy. To define surface details, such as the emblematic stripes on a Bay department store box, they used the width of the masking tape, leaving the process apparent and the mark of the tape identifiable. They also used generic enamel paint colours not the “true” colours, presenting a shorthand for a Bay box– a summary but a deformation.
There is little romance in their method of representation, beginning with the objects they chose extending to the materials and processes they used to render them. The objects were often chosen from materials used to make other objects or merely selected because they could be poured into or were solid geometrical shapes. They presented no puzzle as to what they were or how they were made; the objects and processes were easy to decipher. But everything was not as simple as it appeared. The objects they represented were just entry points. Everything seemed reduced: form, palette, method, repertoire of objects, and most significantly the decision making process. But within this attempt at reduction lies a complexity that moves between the various elements of production and beyond the basic objective of representation.
The simple geometric forms functioned as points of entry into the layered process of production and their point of presentation. The creation of these objects even with the most minimal of gestures generates a circular logic — one that gets lost in what came first and which choice started the decision making process. This logic is built in the tenuous relationships between the formal process, which is ultimately translated into what the viewer is looking at, you have to recognize something, but what comes after that and what is needed to put these common signs off balance? The works’ hermetic system, generated by internal references, repetitions and formal games, is thus pitted against the unshakeable real-world identity of the signs it deploys: the familiarity of a warm bowl of soup, the graphic language of advertising, the iconic power of a flag.
Mahovsky and Weppler’s simple forms, the repeated shapes and colours, accrue like trains of thoughts. One sign can lead to any number of perceptions, memories and emotions. They portray a process, but in their presentation they set other processes in motion. The forms were never presented as individual pieces; they are always stacked. For example, the carved sugar cube sat on top of the painted plaster coffee cup. The choices of what went where seem equally random as they seem subscribed. There was a scattered feel to the positioning of each object, but there was also coherent correlations formed between the stacked objects: sugar and coffee, two speakers, take out containers, gift boxes. They played with formal elements by using the sculptures as plinths or matching colours; at the same time, the stacks were used to build associations of meaning between objects — staging narratives and depicting moments caught in time. Narratives are built from the familiar relations. The sugar hovered on top of the coffee as if suspended in time and the gift boxes could be recently opened Christmas gifts. The narrative is inevitable, yet at the same time this meaning is undone by the serial, mechanical, and ultimately irrational nature of the stacking. The stacks that ‘made sense’ (a can and a bowl of soup) invite one to find logic for more nonsensical ones, and those nonsensical ones invite one to consider the contradictions of the seemingly ‘natural’ looking stacks. As such one object added to the one it sits on, but it could just as easily stamp out the one below it. For example, the can cast has a narrative with the bowl, but it also irrevocably renders the supposedly liquid surface of the bowl a solid one.
One was aware that the relationships between the objects were only temporary. If the sculptures were exhibited in another context, they could easily be assembled in a different fashion, forming new sets of relationships. The objects are solid, but their position and proximity could be altered with the slightest gestures. In combining the objects Mahovsky and Weppler have created a specific dialogue, one that centred on a formal exchange and a continued interest in examining the terms of their visual surroundings in an attempt to see the many directions where these simplified signs can lead.