Cara Perlman's huge new inflatable sculpture -- Mother's Breath -- sits atop Jeffrey Deitch's new building at 18 Wooster Street, something of a breath of fresh air to inured downtown sensibilities, both creatively as well as physically. Funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship, Mother's Breath is the monumental culmination of Perlman's investigation into the quasi-presence of soft forms that began in 1992. As a founding member of the seminal '70s art collective Colab, Perlman is cognizant of the dynamic between art and its broader public audience, a paramount concern.
One of the first things you notice about Mother's Breath is its novelty. Both choice of material -- urethane fabric, halogen light and a blowing apparatus to keep the object inflated -- and its construction -- fabricated by Aerostar International in South Dakota, the company that also makes floats for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade -- evidence an esthetic suggestive of that great boulevard of surplus artist's effects, Canal Street. The innovation of fabrication however belies a deeper poetics at work.
A weightless boulder perched, as if seemingly floating, precariously on a squat structure (a former one-story garage) not atypical for lower SoHo, Mother's Breath has a certain absurdist whimsicality. The answer to the silly "what-is-it" question is twofold -- it's both a tongue-in-cheek pictorial parody of and an enigmatic metaphor for the creative act. It's public art at its very best.
There is a kind of homemade elegance to Mother's Breath that defines a cartoonish fantasy. Simplistic, it evokes an amorphous suggestion of the sublime in which the pseudo-rock is a generalized equivalent for the soul of mother earth -- an idea reinforced by the piece's title.
Its fundamental nature is the essence of Gaia, as elemental as the sculpture's living, constantly breathing and transmuting presence itself. Playful, it is pure pleasure and entertainment. A gigantic boulder that needs to be strapped down or it would fly away, its realm of impossible contradiction is reminiscent of the very best aspects of Oldenburg's early soft sculpture.
Not afraid of being either cute of humorous, Mother's Breath is ultimately arresting in its silence -- a profound meditation imbued with quiet wonder, a glowing representation resonant with the spirit of that which is born. Neither breath nor stone nor even alive, it nonetheless reminds us of that primal esthetic act in which the artist breathes life into the stone.
Cara Perlman at Deitch Projects, Sept. 7-Oct. 4, 1997, 18 Wooster Street, New York, N.Y. 10012