The elements in Lauren McKeon’s first solo show at Oakland’s Interface Gallery, dos and donts, but mostly donts, sit throughout the small space like props in a Nikolai Gogol play. I say a Gogol play mostly because of the mysterious bronze nose resting in one corner of the gallery, a shiny protuberance titled Parts to rub.
The theatrical atmosphere is anchored by Untitled, an 8-by-9-foot prop doorway laying flat on most of Interface’s square footage. The matte-black framework would overwhelm the delicate arrangement of objects in the space were it not horizontal and utterly useless.
“Something face down is both tragic and funny,” McKeon says of the sculpture, made in memory of a friend who fell to his death.
Untitled calls Buster Keaton to mind, but it also conjures thoughts of unmarked, unreachable exits. Assembled on-site, too large to travel through the gallery’s own door, the prop doorway wouldn’t be functional even if it could stand upright. It has no threshold; it’s designed for tripping.
Visitors to dos and donts must circumnavigate the doorway on the floor. Physical progress through the exhibition is made more difficult by the artist’s active resistance to the “modern myth of human progress” in general.
Opposite the gallery entrance, WI-FI, a seashell carved into the shape of an acrylic nail, sits bedazzled on top of a clear plastic pedestal. Per the artist’s instructions, an Oakland nail shop decorated the nail with silvery flakes, a tiny gold seashell and the cryptic black text “wifi.”
Like all the works in the show, McKeon traces the realization of the piece back to a specific experience. On a trip to Essaouira, Morocco, the home of an intense purple dye made from predatory sea snails, McKeon found an analog between an ancient luxury commodity and the rare yet much-sought-after commodity of her own trip: wireless internet.
The cryptic, sparkly WI-FI is yet another mode of adornment -- a status symbol of the modern day.
In trying to understand (and resist) certain contemporary obsessions, other sculptures in dos and donts take on more ritualistic forms. Encrypted phantom, a stocky beeswax candle mixed with the pulverized remnants of a drone once felled by a bird, sits atop a beautifully translucent crystal shelf.
McKoen loves the drone’s backstory. “It’s this moment of resistance between nature and progress,” she says, remembering the horror of the drone’s original upon hearing why she bought it.
The objects on view at Interface are alluring in no small part because of the carefully considered pedestals, shelves and poles supporting them. McKeon also points to the gallery’s location in Temescal Alley, a quaint corridor of high-end boutique shops. At first glance, dos and donts, but mostly donts could be mistaken for one of those stores in which the quantity of objects on sale is inversely proportional to the cost of said objects. Then, upon closer inspection, it is revealed the t-shirt against the left wall is tie-dyed with blood.
McKeon’s group of odd props are more likely the recipe for an occult ritual that will open a portal in the floor -- a doorway down, through and against that list of rules and restrictions we like to call the path toward "progress."
dos and donts, but mostly donts is on view at Interface Gallery in Oakland through Feb. 12. For hours and information visit interfaceartgallery.com.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED