Tamar Ettun’s Eat a Pink Owl: The Art of Assembly

Reviewed by Naomi Rosenblatt

Tamar Ettun, Pink Horse with Warrior with Silver Skirt , 2017, Mixed Media, 116 x 84 x 84

It’s not just an exhibition—it’s a multi-faceted, four-year undertaking. That’s the context behind Tamar Ettun’s Eat a Pink Owl, now showing at the Fridman Gallery (287 Spring Street, September 9 – October 14). Ettun’s latest work serves as Part Three in a series of shows called A Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth, Red Feathers, Green Feet, and a Rose Belly, held between 2015 and 2018. According to catalogue writer Wendy Vogel, “The artist has dedicated each year in the four-year series to a specific color and emotion”—2015 was Blue (empathy), 2016 Yellow (desire), 2017 Pink (aggression/resistance), and 2018 will be Orange (joy). This mining of a single color’s drama reminded me of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy of films—Blue, White, and Red, which were sequentially released in 1993 and 94.

Ettun’s current “Pink” exhibition also includes two dance performances: a video called Part Pink, mounted on the gallery wall, and Mauve Bird with Yellow Teeth, Red Feathers, Green Feet, and a Rose Belly: Part PINK, which was performed live on October 1 in a parking lot across from the Fridman Gallery. Vibrant and multi-talented Ettun choreographed the performances in collaboration with other dancers in her ensemble, The Moving Company. They built their themes from movement exercises and stories written with students in a Crown Heights school as a response to Donald Trump’s inauguration.

If this description of Eat a Pink Owl already shatters the confines of a single show, that is because inclusion and assemblage are absolutely essential to Tamar Ettun’s approach. Much of what is labeled “performance art” is neither. But the gifted and extremely well trained Ettun pulls it off, moving fluently between sculpture, dance, video, photography, and painting—taking the color pink with her, on this occasion. Just as she travels between film and form, motion and stillness, she moves the creative process outside of herself to include her team of professional dancers, students, activists, and to encompass the city where she’s working.

Community and interdependency pervaded the performance in the parking lot. Clad in pink togas and skirts, dancers stood in a motionless row, like a Greek or Egyptian frieze. Then they broke into smaller, squabbling groups that were often attached by black inner tubes or wire. Individuals set out on various odysseys, balancing on spools of yarn or concrete spheres. Eventually they grouped together to inflate a huge, plastic triangle-shaped balloon—the mauve bird? A ship’s sail?—and deploy it through the empty lot. Passers-by stopped to take notice, dogs barked, and at one point the large speaker tumbled. The sun set, turning the sky a faint pink.

Part Pink, the looping dance video inside the gallery, echoed elements of the live performance. Dancers on a city rooftop also wore pink, and—with yellow kitchen gloves, slowly plucked petals off the flowers upon each other’s eyes. The yellow-on-pink motif had emerged in the live dance by way of cable wires. At one point two dancers whipped these yellow wires to the ground; the slapping sound reminded me of jump ropes and before I knew it, the wire was being turned and an agile young dancer tried jumping in. She hit the rope sometimes, as we all had as girls—I can recall the humiliation—and other times she actually, satisfyingly, jumped rope.

Tamar Ettun, Lime and Beer, 2017, Digital Print, 31 x 31 x 1.5, Edition 1/6

Ettun’s work, both still and motion-based, is filled with intimate surprise. For a young artist, she’s amazingly adept at blending her classical training with spontaneous choice and impulse. For example, she has applied pink paint to digital prints in luscious, broad strokes that counterbalance the carefully plotted photograph. I was sorry not to see more digital prints on the walls because the one displayed, Limes and Beer, was intriguing. Limes pulsate against that backdrop of brushstrokes; green pops against pink, like the yellow of the kitchen gloves or wire pops in the performances. The limes are stacked on a skewer, which is another theme of Ettun’s: the totem. In the gallery’s back room is a sculpture from her previous Blue exhibition at Fridman: Totem with a Green Brush. Do not miss this “leaning tower” of pots and pails, triumphantly topped by a dish brush. I will confess it said more to me than the central sculpture of the exhibit, a giant horse and rider, which felt more piñata-like and perhaps predictable than most of Ettun’s imagery.

I couldn’t find much by way of an owl—only the colorful feathered hair of Wet Bird, a sculpture built from a painted female mannequin, and the pink feathered kneepads in Legs with a Woven Basket. This quixotic mixed-media sculpture is composed of two mannequin legs—one male and one female—which support a bent torso sheathed in baskets that are interlaced with white yarn. The composite being appears to falter, with unbalanced legs, in bondage and blindness … like flowers on the eyes. Yet we can imagine that if it could move, Legs with a Woven Basket would lumber across the floor as the dancers did at the end of the parking lot performance, when they were bound together with packaging tape to the mauve bird. Yarn, wire, tape; ties that bind make us clumsy, slow us down. But these kind of imperfect connections seem to feed Tamar Ettun, make her vulnerable to the potential of real contact and sharing. And she, in turn, begs the question to her viewers: “What makes you vulnerable?”

Tamar Ettun, Legs with Woven Basket, 2017, Mixed Media, 78 x 32 x 15

Learn more about Tamar Ettun’s work at tamarettun.com and The Moving Company at themoving.co. EAT A PINK OWL will be exhibited at the Fridman Gallery, 287 Spring Street, from now until October 14, 2017.

Naomi Rosenblatt is the Editor-in-Chief/Art Director of Honeysuckle Magazine and the founder of Heliotrope Books. heliotropebooks.com

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