Elaine Fisher: Repartea at Project 1628
On exhibit through February 19, 2022
by Cara Ober
During the pandemic, Elaine Fisher challenged herself to make ten-minute sculptures out of household recyclables and posted them on Instagram (@elaineyfish #tenminutesculpture) as part of a daily studio practice. Under Fisher’s judicious eye, cardboard egg cartons and sardine tins and bits of wire were transformed into whimsical assemblages and intimate constructions reminiscent of vintage cartoon robots, arcane sea creatures, and children’s science experiments.
Over time, the improvisational forms expanded in complexity as the artist allowed more time for the formal concerns of color, texture, and scale to compete with brazen associations of material culture, otherwise known as rubbish. Replete with a wide range of associations, purposes, and past lives, Fisher’s tiny forms offer a wonky but clear reflection of its maker’s curiosity and also of late capitalism’s legacy.
Arranged on a long white tabletop at Project 1628, the front room of a grand Bolton Hill brownstone, the artist’s creations engage in witty banter with new audiences but also with each another in an ideal setting. Titled Repartea—a riff on “repartee,” a conversation or speech characterized by quick, clever comments or replies, and teatime—Fisher’s dinner party installation unites the tiny assemblages into individual place settings at a lavish feast for the eyes and mind. On the walls, two-dimensional portraits of Fisher’s works reflect a sincere approach to surrealism, where objects are personified into fantastical but approachable entities. Additional sculptures adorn the corners, staircase, and marble mantlepiece, along with a beautiful printed catalog and sets of coasters available for sale.
Fisher’s sculptures blithely remind us that the materials we consume on a daily basis have value and pleasing aesthetic qualities. They question the hierarchy of materials typically used to create art, proving that good design often accompanies detritus. They also demand us to reconsider our relationships with recycling, consumption, waste, and the looming environmental crisis we face. Writ large as an installation, Repartea draws us in with playful humor and primary color, then surrounds us with the overwhelming ubiquity of single-use plastics, our inefficient use of natural resources, and the probability that these items will remain on Earth long after humans are gone.
As the artist, a British citizen living in Baltimore for the past few years, plans to return to England this spring, this exhibit is a bittersweet farewell. Had Fisher lived in Baltimore during “normal” times and not during a pandemic, her work would have undoubtedly been more widely experienced and exhibited. Regardless, Repartea is a wild and tactile feast for the senses, as well as a springboard for important conversations about climate change and the roles artists can play in addressing legal and economic barriers through playful means.