In Aurora Crispin's solo exhibition at Oakland's Important Projects, A Selection of Everything, a series of seven photographs presents items from Crispin's personal possessions -- part of an archive begun in 2005, an attempt to document every object in her custody. Some of these items sit alone against a neutral background, others have been grouped in order to render them non-functional and unfamiliar. With a seemingly enormous amount of items to choose from (think of just one drawer in your house and its collected detritus), these seven prints are an extremely small sample size of Crispin's life. And yet the deadpan delivery provides a glimpse into the artist's interests, sensibilities, and most importantly, aesthetic accomplishments.
A Selection of Everything begs the question: what do a crumpled tuft of lilac tissue paper, a rubber dragon fruit, and an envelope of bread bag ties have in common? Are these items burdens or bounty? What could simply be a collection of strange objects is made formally interesting by Crispin's arrangements within the photographs. Her decisions are both funny and confusing. Easily recognizable objects (a hair elastic) are countered by the utterly unknowable (two curls of what appear to be white and black plastic). Most unsettling are the strange shift in scales that occur in Crispin's photographs, echoing the unique gallery setting.
Here I must admit that I am taller than the average adult. At 6'1" I generally find "eye-level" to be a tad low for comfortable art viewing. But Gallery 1, where Crispin's work is showcased, is by anyone's measure extremely small. The carpeted room measures approximately 7.5 by 5.5 feet, with the ceiling rising to only 6'5.5". Standing with a stranger in the space is akin to trying to find an inoffensive spot in an elevator. I almost needed to duck through the doorway. The entire experience made me feel giant. Reinforcing this, a row of school chairs, normal except for being half the size of ordinary chairs, line the wall outside the gallery.
Since it opened in November 2009, Important Projects has mounted 24 exhibitions of emerging artists from the Bay Area and beyond. On opening nights, fluorescent light from the upstairs galleries shines brightly onto a leafy street just one block from the Rockridge BART, promising an interior space in stark contrast to its residential surroundings. The amount of art that has come through Important Projects and the inventive stagings that are a necessary part of the gallery conditions are a testament to the space and its organizers, a current roster of Jason Benson, Sean Buckelew, Joel Dean, and Hannah Tarr.
If visiting Important Projects is a bit like entering Wonderland, Crispin responds to this challenge by rendering completely banal objects as curious assemblages. In its straightforward presentation, A Selection of Everything is as slickly pristine as any art a white-cube gallery could hope to show. The trick is to turn a familiar form of installation into a more lasting impression. In Crispin's seven selections, the objects become equal in size and absurdity, hinting at the impossible task of documenting "everything."
Supplemental to the exhibition, Crispin produced a book version featuring far more of her possessions. In a 6" x 6" grid format, objects are rendered minuscule. The effect is much like scrolling through pages of image search results. The best moments come halfway through the book, when the hair tie emerges in a two-page spread, still larger than life, and at the end, when a pulled-back shot reveals a behind-the-scenes look at the photographic set-up the artist used while in residency at Real Time + Space. While the book is a handy pocket-sized reminder of the ideas behind the project, A Selection of Everything is such a peculiarly enjoyable in-person viewing experience that it shouldn't be missed.
A Selection of Everything is on view at Important Projects through February 25, 2012. For more information visit importantprojects.net.