Ian Dawson, "Tilt Trucks and Free Fliers," June 26-Aug. 8, 2003, at James Cohan Gallery, 533 West 26th Street, New York, N.Y. 10001
It's the tilt trucks first. Twenty-four large dumpster-like bins block out the front room at James Cohan Gallery. Contorted by heat and jammed together with a force that suggests the formation of a young planet, the bins are further distressed by melted protuberances which appear in a measured randomness.
The emptiness of these joined bodies immediately brings to mind environmental themes of humanity's waste. The multiplicity of the tilt trucks asserts, as well, the ongoing and repeated nature of the output of the present age. Beyond the specificity of green environmentalism, Ian Dawson's works also address the biological form. The melted elongations that extend from Dawson's plastic bodies suggest a porcupine-esque protection, and the inherent vulnerability therein. Dawson's melded bins are reminiscent of a protean multi-celled animal -- thriving in the soup of contemporary existence. Moreover, with the candy colors of the bins, Dawson points to our own intake -- and our breeding of this sort of plastic amoeba to indulge our guilty if unhealthy pleasures. Burns on the skin of Dawson's protuberances supply wincingly credible evidence of toxicity, and formulate the question, "As life becomes plastic, what happens to us?"
In contrast to the extroversion of Dawson's tilt trucks, the hanging presence of Dawson's 6 Black Bins is more subverted. The star-like clumpiness of the works gives the impression of an intergalactic burr dropping from the sky. Their darkness indicates that they are everywhere, yet unseen, much like the theoretical dark matter of astrophysicists. Dawson hints to a larger, unexplained equation to the plastic (alien) invasion of Mother Earth. The implication is not so much of true-science, however, as the Hollywood science of childhood oversimplification.
In keeping with that thesis, Dawson's White Paper Pile in the rear room consists of crumpled silkscreens reproducing imagery from astronomical diagrams and children's books. The pile of paper directly associates the plastic extrusions of tilt trucks to the extruded quality of pop culture, and the infinite perishability of any cherished personal interiority. An allusion to vapor and fumes in Dawson's pigment on paper series, 9 Piece Mimoid emphasizes this mutability of contexts, be they individual contexts or communal contexts. (Mimo: from the Greek, a combining form.)
Dawson's Free Fliers sculptures especially well to impart an isolation intrinsic to our collective experience. The anthropomorphic shapes of the newspaper dispensers are adept metaphors of people filled and refilled by topical clumps of information. Every newspaper the same, the only difference is from where that information is distributed -- perspective is reduced to our own particular street corner. The drab colors of the free fliers -- white, grey, burgundy and green -- announce that "we are here but not here. We are an infinity of media dispensers." Touchingly pathetic, a pair of the dispensers seem to huddle together in the gallery's rear viewing room.
Ian Dawson's "Tilt Trucks and Free Fliers" continues the artist's assault on the plastic globe. What next? Hide your toothbrushes alongside your cherished notions, Dawson's ambition may well be to melt everything.
JOHN REED is author of the novels A Still Small Voice (Delacorte Press), Snowball's Chance (Roof Books) and the forthcoming Duh Whole (MTV Books).