Wednesday 17 July 2013

Tara Donovan in Louisiana

Tara Donovan uses everyday objects for her art. She uses elements in one specific material which she joins together, glues, stacks, or accumulates into a form. The components could be film tape, drinking straws, paper plates, buttons or glass. In her large sculptural installations she puts together hundreds, thousands or even hundreds of  thousands of elements to produce abstract forms that seem to be transformed into all sorts of things: clouds, corals, star formations, cell structures.

With regards to her artistic process, Donovan chooses the material before she decides what can be done with it. She studies the material's properties and by varying the light, quantity and arrangement, she develops a set of rules that serves to contain and guide the final form. Dictated by the material's unique properties, the installation 'grows' through repetitive labour. She noted in an interview that she thinks 'in terms of infinity, of the materials expanding'. She added: 'it's all about perceiving this material from a distance and close up and how the light interacts with it'.

Donovan calls her installations site-reponsive, in that she expands, compresses or changes their shapes in relation to the space in which she installs them. Her work can be furthermore seen as a descendant of the work of Eva Hesse.

The exhibition we saw presented eight works ranging sculpturally from small crystalline growths to large organic landscapes. Although the organic or at least nature-like forms seem obvious as a point of comparison, this is not a matter of Donovan simply simulating nature. She does not copy the world as it is, rather she uses nature's growth principles to create new forms. 'It's not like I'm trying to simulate nature. It's more of a mimicking of the way of nature, the way things actually grow'.

She creates a unique sculptural universe by exploiting the potential of materials, their aesthetic effects and constructive qualities.

It was a stunning show - she effects such transformations with the materials she uses that unless we got very close we could not tell what everyday objects she had used.

Bluffs - Illusion, 2006 (buttons and glue)

Suggesting mountain peaks or stalagmites, this sculpture is a mass of teetering stacks of plastic buttons.

looking closer

Untitled, 2008 (polyester film)

looking closer

and closer

Untitled, 2012 (acrylic and adhesive)

looking closer

Haze, 2013 (translucent plastic drinking straws - 2 million of them)

Along with Donovan, lots of other helpers constructed Haze through a time-consuming marathon that the artist humorously referred to as 'a mechanized process without the luxury of a machine'.

Looking at Haze from a distance, one felt that one was looking at a formation of encrusted minerals, a cross section of a coral reef, or wisps of a strange, opaque fog. Up close however, the image sharpened and our preconceptions changed instantly, swept away in the recognition of surprisingly familiar objects from which Haze was made.

you can see the straws in this picture, I hope

Untitled, 2008, (polyester metallised film tape)

looking closer

Untitled, 2005 (paper plates and hot glue)

looking closer

Untitled, 2008 (polyester metallised film tape)

looking closer

looking closer

and closer - you can see how her sculptures absorb and reflect the light

and one more

monumental and breathtaking.


  1. What delightful results of creative lateral thinking! I can just imagine that she must constantly be aware of so many aspects and possible configurations of every little man made thing that she encounters. And all of them are such fun.

    1. Spot on, Olga. The exhibition was a delight and such fun!