Though it is unusual to see Springsteen’s lights dimmed during open hours, the current exhibition by Flannery Silva opts for a muted darkness and curtained-off front window to house its collection of digitally collaged posters, ceramic figures and ballet barres, and embroidered banners. Moving away from the net-ready, pristine shows Springsteen has consistently curated,Youth Dew offers a selection of carefully crafted and often times peculiar artifacts that feel like a secret or whisper offered by the artist and necessitate being explored in-person to fully resonate.
That said, navigating the space is much like navigating Silva’s diaristically structured website: a labyrinth of images and links fusing fragments of Little House on the Prairie,Little Women, and The Glass Menagerie among others. The characters from these stories seem to act as surrogates for the artist, and Silva shape-shifts between roles in Youth Dew, merging her own hand with the likeness of Laura Ingalls, ballerinas, and Precious Moments dolls. Silva’s interest in these childhood depictions of girlhood surpass nostalgia and border on obsession/fixation, making it difficult to distinguish the boundary between fact and fiction, performance and reality. Simultaneously imbued with tenderness and threat, Youth Dew blends young naiveté of melancholic reminiscence with something more sinister.
Akin to a crime scene, or perhaps the opening montage of a crime television drama, small vignettes of fabricated ballet barres, footprints indicating ballet positions, and spilled baby bottles lay on the ground untouched, softly lit in the otherwise darkened room. In one corner, a grey and black wooden cutout of a simplified, featureless figure in a bonnet hangs from white rope. It is unclear whether her hands are bound or she is innocently swinging. On the opposite wall, a triangle of fabric machine-embroidered with a poem hangs by two oversized hair clips. Splotches of juice or dye allow the white-on-white text to emerge more clearly, revealing collections of phrases both light-hearted (“a feeling i only want to poke with a stick”; “qUiLt TiL u WiLt”) and more threatening (“Drawers Hiked, Ode To Bloomers/ milk-teeth missing, lips bee-stung, nipples swell/nothingness for baby”). Throughout the gallery, hands are bound, faces are obscured, and shapes reminiscent of tears and flower petals litter the ground.
The exaggerated sadness of Silva’s arrangements references the performance work of Laurel Nakadate, while ties to artists Bunny Rogers and collaborative partner Filip Olszewski emerge in the imagery and content on display as well. Recently highlighted in Joanna Fateman’s article “Women on the Verge: Art, Feminism and Social Media” (Artforum, April 2015), Rogers employs a similar language as Silva, combining found text, crafted objects and websites, and appropriated imagery to explore cybermythology and child sexuality. Probably the most disturbing yet all-encompassing phrase cited in Fateman’s article is lifted from a poem of Rogers’: “Adorability is fuckability / because children are adorable/ and men want to fuck children/ Acknowledge or die wow/ You are dead to me.”
And there is something mildly disturbing about encountering so many characters and figurines intended for a young audience in Silva’s show, although this exploration of the uncomfortable intersection between trauma and innocence remains intriguing in its taboo without ever becoming overly didactic. Moments where these two subjects merge, as in the image of a young toddler crawling on all fours, cradled by the words, “This little country girl is all ready to be hung from your tree,” become the keystones for Youth Dew. Not explicitly erotic or violent, but certainly interpretive as such, these works provide only murmurs of their histories. Even the show’s title offers liberal interpretation, simultaneously referencing infancy, spring, freshness, perfume, perspiration, a water drop emoji, and a tear.
Youth Dew is on view through June 6that Springsteen Gallery, 502 W. Franklin St. (Photos courtesy of Springsteen, view video walkthrough here.)