Abalon: Lost in Translation

Photo from CLEARING

Photo from CLEARING

The dim light of an overcast sky filters into a large room through a few rain-streaked skylights. The room is filled with sculptures, reliefs and miscellaneous installations, but somehow it still feels empty. The unfinished concrete floors, enormous walls, and fluorescent light fixtures make the facility seem incredibly industrial. This is to be expected: the style of the room is true to its location, blending in seamlessly with the surrounding warehouses of East Williamsburg.

This is CLEARING, the New York branch of a Belgian art gallery from Brussels, dedicated to displaying contemporary art from up-and-coming artists from around the world. Today, the space is filled with a collection of work by French artist Jean-Marie Appriou entitled "Abalon."

The first visible piece is a cast-iron sculpture of a man suspended in the air, his silver body horizontal to the ground. He is clearly in motion, contorted like an eel, swimming unconventionally through some invisible body of water. Behind him are more statues, also made of cast iron and aluminum. Some of them are human figures, slightly otherworldly and reminiscent of different historical time periods. Others are ambiguous metallic structures with molten surfaces and a few scarce streaks of color. The pieces are heavily textured with blunt edges that make each work seem somewhat primitive and unfinished.

Behind "The Swimmer" there is an unidentifiable mass entitled "The Wave." In the corner, a small iron man plays a flute with jagged stars carved onto his torso and a blue glass orb hanging from his shoulders like a backpack. The following room contains a wall of blown glass moths, their bright colors bubbling together, creating a turbulent surface of imprecise shapes. There is a three-faced archer, a thinker, a woman wrapped in flames, and a wall of aluminum plants.

It is worth noting that certain characters are marked with golden heads and hands, while others contain elements of blue glass. It seems as though the golden-headed characters are perhaps more enlightened, while the blue ones are smaller, menial, and less evolved individuals. The pieces evoke a sense of exploration, antiquity, and intrigue, and it is from these characteristics that they derive their value.

Whatever the artist’s message, it is lost in translation, obscured by abstract objects and disjointed characters. Any semblance of uniformity within the collection comes from Appriou’s use of similar materials rather than from a discernible central theme. It seems as though the pieces, while they are stimulating, are missing the necessary context for their existence. Nonetheless, they are worth a glance, even if just for their peculiar design.