Friday, August 10, 2012

Esther Traugot

by Stephen Cummings
Esther Traugot, 2011, Egg

Jasper Johns showed us decades ago that a cast of a light bulb is something quite different from the bulb itself. Christo and Jeanne-Claude, likewise, found that wrapping objects, buildings, landscapes could transform them dramatically; the historical seat of German government repurposed into their monumental sculpture, if only for the time it was enveloped. More recently, knitters have entered the fold, Olek, probably most famously, covering the Charging Bull in New York's financial district.

The impulses are different, but the results are interestingly similar. Johns, in his usual way, chose something ubiquitous and made it into high art, a not unprecedented, but still somewhat absurd gesture. Christo and Jeanne-Claude elevated an already elevated construction, making profound again a selection from the once most highly regarded art form. And Olek turned the banker's ego pink.

Each of these artists transformed the somethings they worked with into very similar, but undeniably different somethings else, and it is as a part of this tradition that Esther Traugot has positioned herself. Crocheting sheaths of golden fiber, the artist encases fragments from the natural world, simplifying them into irregular pieces of sculpture. The smoothing out is common to each of the artists mentioned, making the objects on display more digestible by their presentation, and by being simpler, somehow more worthwhile. Such is the case with Traugot's Rootsy, part of her Outside In show recently on display at Chandra Cerrito Contemporary in Oakland. The wrapped object is both adorned and erased by its casing; writhing bits of tree mounted for consideration, swallowed by the pollen-yellow, interlocking threads.

Thus, by loop upon meticulous fiber loop, does this artist "gild" her subjects, making precious the insistently banal. In contrast to Olek's blunt emasculation, Traugot raises her subjects' profiles by the tediousness of her action. At once cradled and adorned, these objects are treated with reverence, whether attention is drawn to the surface or its shape. Yarn blankets the inside of Home Again 2, standing in for the creature that once inhabited this shell, protruding like an odd, careful growth. In Egg an exterior portion of the object is ornately framed by its intricate cover, as though inviting us to take a look at the lovely texture.

But then again, it's an egg in a sweater.

Whatever the profundity of Traugot's sculptures, they're also weird. The tediousness of the adornment is in a way as banal as the objects themselves. When a piece of a twig or shell protrudes from its wrapper it's unclear what the difference is. The parts behind the yellow screen are notionally preserved, but as fragile as ever. Why take so much care with this part and not that? The answer may be that no part is more important than another. In the past, Traugot's cast-off bits of wrapped up nature have been installation, artifact, and plays on the tradition of landscape in art, but in all cases the pattern of yellow curls invites a look at each object that would not otherwise have happened. Traugot, like her predecessors, forces a look at things we've all seen a thousand times, only to have us see something else.

See more work by Esther Traugot on the GO SEE ART Flickr page.

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