At Rocksbox this month, the gallery splits its space between two young artists whose work is so conceptually driven that, for now, craft and presentation remain secondary concerns. That's not necessarily a criticism, though: While New Yorker Jo Nigoghossian's three-part installation Happy Hour struggles to cohere, the stylistically fragmented work of Los Angeles-based artist Natascha Snellman's is united by an unwavering sense of focus.
Nigoghossian's work is divided thematically between the three rooms in the gallery's upstairs: cardboard signs advertising "Nails" and "Tattoos" mounted on crucifix-like poles; Duchampian assemblages, built from discarded furniture, an old weightlifting set, and carpet scraps; and, finally, a wall of images of a bartender, snapped over the course of an evening. In a sense, Nigoghossian has replicated seedy urbanity within the gallery space. Here, the signage scans as a city street, the readymade sculptures as discarded objects and trash in an alley, and the photographs, most obviously, as the bar itself. But this spatial mapping never quite asserts its intent. Instead, this work actually takes on the nameless and near invisible qualities of the spaces it depicts.
In Snellman's installation, We Children of the Zoo, the work is no less stylistically disparate–but, unlike Nigoghossian, Snellman never loses sight of her conceptual locus. Throughout the exhibition, the artist repeatedly questions the notion of "nature," likening humanity's repressed desires, appetites, and instincts to the cages that effectively allow wild animals to inhabit civilization. As such, Snellman presents a crude, cinderblock re-creation of a zoo enclosure in "Ode Old LA Zoo," but manipulates the scale to human size. Another wire enclosure bears a vintage image of Natassja Kinski cradling the head of an enormous jungle cat on its lid. As the lid reveals the actress quite literally embracing her feral side, the cage is symbolically empty. However, it is in an adjacent, black-lit room that the artist makes her point most directly with a reappropriated image of Richard Serra creating his legendary "Splashing." In her high-contrast variation of the image, Serra is so blurred and darkened that, as he heaves molten lead in his studio, he looks savage and apish. For Snellman, then, art and, by extension, the exhibition space are zoos themselves, where all of mankind's untamed impulses can roam free.