Tissues and Trench CoatsMarch 14, 2012
Anna Sew Hoy’s Tissues and Trench Coats presents two different bodies of work: cut trench coats and ceramic tissue-box covers. With these sculptures, Sew Hoy attempts to poetically reframe everyday objects. Unfortunately, the results exhibit some questionable decisions on Sew Hoy’s part in regard to her choice of materials as well as the pieces’ restrained scale that prevents them from becoming transformative.
Much of the exhibition is dedicated to Sew Hoy’s reworked trench coats, which hang in an uncluttered arrangement. Sew Hoy has cut out most of the coats’ fabric, leaving only networks of seams that outline their structures along with their buttons. These skeletons hang on crude ceramic hangers, suspended by odd finger-shaped resin hooks attached to the gallery walls. Although they offer a smart way to solve installation logistics, Sew Hoy’s handmade hooks and hangers are distracting; the finger-shaped hooks, in particular, give the otherwise ghostly pieces an injection of the figurative that comes off as a goofy, surreal joke. Had Sew Hoy chosen nondescript hangers and hooks, she would have kept the viewer’s attention on the process the coats were subjected to and the banality of her chosen objects.
Sew Hoy’s cuts reference the coats’ construction (cut and sewn fabric panels) and attempt to convey a conceptually complex process of making and unmaking. Implicit to her approach is the idea that by breaking down an object, one can distill its essence. With this method, individual parts may become strange or unfamiliar once extracted from their original tidy form and function. While Sew Hoy has eradicated the purpose of her trench coats (they are no longer able to cover or protect one’s body), the resulting sculptures are affectively flat, evoking neither the sense of vulnerability nor absence one might expect them to. Gravity forces the horizontal seams of the coats to slightly sag while the vertical ones dangle their lengths, but the resulting shapes are not entirely unexpected. I suspect that Sew Hoy may have imagined results of more organic or chaotic forms but that the coats did not have the amount of detail in their original construction for her approach to achieve this.
In addition to her subtractive cutting method, Sew Hoy pursues a further process of distillation through seriality by presenting five coats within a modest range of color and style. A series potentially confirms or contrasts an object against its ideal or sets up comparisons between the particular objects themselves. With simple titles like rouge/tan, maroon/bleu lavande, and so on, Sew Hoy suggests she is interested in developing a formal range rather than a specific narrative about the individual coats—such as where they came from, who owned them, and when they were produced. But the limited number on display turns them into rarified art works rather than a cumulative commentary on the mass-produced object.
In contrast to the coats, the white ceramic tissue-box covers with their red steel stands have a more sculptural feel and futuristic look; a single tissue emerges from the top of each. With their combination of materials, textures, and colors, the tissue boxes are formally compelling. However, the relevance of the materials is perplexing. Tissue-box covers are typically constructed from crafty materials less prone to breaking—like lace, needlepoint, metal, and wood, but Sew Hoy’s sleek forms aim to avoid being anything tchotchke-like. While ceramic is a departure from the predictable, Sew Hoy could have opted for materials that may have achieved more evocative results, such as plaster or cast glass, which would provide the tissue boxes with a different sense of mass, fragility, and inversion that ceramic does. Sew Hoy’s selection of ceramic seems more a decision based on her having a repertoire with the medium than selecting a material that contributes complexity to the work. Additionally, I wonder if my opinions of the work are a result of the specific objects she’s chosen. With their air of suburban middle-class propriety, trench coats and tissue-box covers represent rather staid means of being discreet or covering something up.
The logic behind Sew Hoy’s processes may be sound, but unfortunately the poetic sense of deconstruction or reconstruction she may hope to convey might get lost in translation. By remaking everyday objects through unmaking them, Sew Hoy displays her artistic range while raising familiar questions about the intersection of mass production and artistic fabrication that have been asked since the presentation of the readymade. For all their minimal solemnity, Sew Hoy’s trench coats and tissue boxes fail to propose a new line of inquiry worthy of the frustrating level of scrutiny they demand of viewers.