Art teaches us about the importance of form, but where does art get its ideas? This is a question that is aptly addressed by the sculpture of David Adamo, whose recent exhibition presented the gallery visitor with a form they might never expect to see in a white cube. Adamo is fascinated by the forms inherent in Nature, and how their implicit realness can not only charm or convince but also obfuscate. Adamo uses sculpture as a form of metaphysical or ontological excavation. He starts with a material and an idea, and with both in hand, he digs at the material or amasses it, shaping and sculpting until forms emerge to fulfill his concept. Nature itself presents a version of the real that clashes with the ideas of art history, displacing them.
Adamo's objective this time was to recreate an object that exists only for a specific class of insects; termites who within certain climates are driven to create massive vertical mounds. The mounds are reduced in size from their manifestation in the wild, where they range in height from 10 to 30 feet. Prior to formal or conceptual reasons for making this series of sculptures, Adamo was struck by the inherent ironies they represented. They are domiciles constructed by a species of insect well known for its destructive abilities, and his versions of them, being decidedly smaller than actual mounds, are small objects made by a large being versus a huge structure fashioned by a multitude of tiny creatures. The result is the same even if the aims are different.
At first glance, the exhibition had an accidental quality, as if someone had left a bunch of nondescript mounds around the gallery, piles of mysterious matter around which that visitors had to navigate. Due to it being especially hot the day I visited, the gallery had its air conditioners turned up, giving it a sort of aquarium feeling. Adamo's sculptures reminded me of the faux fixtures of fish tanks, replicating coral reefs. Each version of the termite mounds differed from the other, and their arrangement within the gallery itself, which has an especially high ceiling, created a cavernous feel that is magnified by the majestic, if reduced, edifices of his individual termite mound recreations.
The physical ordering of each mound within the gallery was done with regard to the gallery going experience. With nothing on the gallery walls, and the lights turned to a mere glimmer, the mounds each took on a charged presence. They were fabricated from Zellan, a type of synthetic porcelain which, mixed together with a single pigment and otherwise left in the rawest state possible, mimics the appearance of the termite mounds. The first of them were a pair of ‘cathedral’ mounds, named after the type of termite that lives within them, and they are typically formed into rib-like structures that resemble bony hands or the spires atop churches. "Untitled/Cathedral F" (2013) was placed right within the aperture of the door of the main gallery with little room left to pass, visitors had to inch by, and they had little perspective on what the forms were until they emerged into a wide open space between the door and the rear of the gallery, which was organized into a random assortment of 'cathedral' and ‘magnetic’ mounds, some of them pigmented in brown or gold or gray, one even in a cool blue. The magnetic mounds, such as "Untitled/Magnetic E" (2013) are round at the bottom but flatten as they lead upward, so that the top resembles the ridge of a dinosaur's back.
I was struck by the notion that Adamo's fascination with the natural might be a foil for envy, that he is ambivalent between the desire to create a recognition of real things that fall outside everyday experience and the need to create artistically impressive objects. Though many people may understand that termites create mounds, many have never seen them in person, so we must take it on Adamo's knowledge that they are so. His installation reminded me of a childhood trip to the Grand Canyon, in particular a stretch called the Valley of Monuments, bordered on each side by a mountain, a suspended boulder, and a vista of more ridges and stones to come. It was the only time I felt we were breathing the same air as these objects; that we were in time instead of merely passing time. I felt this again with Adamo's sculpture, and the air was good.
Published in Frieze Magazine, January 2014