One of the high points of Motel's White Light group show last April was North Carolina-based artist Amanda Barr's work, which was as preoccupied with the natural world as it was in rendering it in unnatural terms. Papier-mâché sculptures of rocks, covered in fractal patterns, appeared feather light. In another hallucinatory sculpture, an arm-like appendage reached out of the gallery wall—and two towering mushrooms grew out of it. And the pixilated contours of a fiery, spray-painted flower seemed directly inspired by Super Mario Bros. Barr's handling of the natural world flaunted a skewed, even psychedelic perspective, in which the most familiar phenomena become estranged and artificial.
In Case of the Wolves, Barr's first solo exhibition at Motel, she hasn't abandoned this disorienting strategy. The same fire flower reappears in "Flower Power," a medieval-style banner made from recycled fabrics. There is a trio of ceramic rock sculptures, flecked with gold and painted with boldly colored, chaotic geometries. "Rock Clock" even keeps time with a pair of cast resin cigarette butts for a second hand. Still, Case of the Wolves demonstrates less interest in disorienting representation as in pulling apart the notion of craft at the seams. Her materials, including ceramics and fabrics, point toward a craft-based practice. But while craft typically emphasizes its functionality, Barr's works assert themselves as aesthetic entities, purposefully undoing any utilitarian potential.
The best example of this—and the show's most intriguing piece—is "Rock Harp," made with collaborator Patrick Zung. Here, Barr has roughly fabricated an amplified harp out of a cloud-shaped piece of oak, bolts, screws, and metal wire. In a visual pun on rock music, a wire snakes down to the floor, where a speaker hides inside a ceramic boulder. And while an adjacent brass placard reads "Please Play," the harp will not remain in tune. Its strings unwind gradually each day, creating its own chaotic and discordant scale. Likewise, the cigarette butt second hand in "Rock Clock" ticks forward insistently, but does not provide any practical application. Put simply, you can't tell what time it is; you can only tell that time is passing. In this sense, Barr's sculptures celebrate an aesthetic of failure. They may not work in the expected ways, but the fact of their creation is accomplishment enough.