Under a Constellation of Leaves, 2019
Aluminum fence panel, air-dry clay, wire, Aqua-Resin, paint; 6 x 10 x 14 ft
mh PROJECT nyc, June 12 - July 14, 2019, New York, NY
Detroit Art Week, Young Curators, New Ideas V, July 17 - 21, 2019
Hyperallergic: “Rachelle Dang’s Meditation on Past and Present” (Louis Bury, July 14, 2019)
Under a Constellation of Leaves connects the vulnerabilities of childhood and the natural world through material transformation conveying fragility, memory, and loss. In the center of the gallery, a clay replica of a child’s sleeping bag has been seemingly abandoned and left adrift in a white field of a thousand sculpted leaves. A carrier of dreams and bodies, this object evokes preciousness and vulnerability; no longer soft it has been remade as a brittle, fragile object. Through a labor-intensive process, Dang has also recreated a 10 ft version of the chain-link fencing surrounding her family’s backyard with its protrusion of stephanotis vines and piles of raked leaves at its base. This sculpted version mysteriously sprouts human ears amongst the clay flowers and leaves, like protective watchers or empathetic witnesses. Oversized seedpods hang from the vine as strange appendages. Seedpods are carriers protecting enclosed seeds until maturation and dispersal, symbolizing the potential for rebirth, rejuvenation, and new journeys.
The installation’s thousands of hand-modelled clay elements evoke the sensual forms of nature, but devoid of color they allude to bones and bleached coral. What might otherwise seem nostalgic appears ghostly, brittle, and defamiliarized. The fencing and sleeping bag convey a fraught and fleeting sense of safety within a larger context of power, exclusion, and dispossession in Hawaii, while alluding to wider crises in migration. Stephanotis carries a Greek name (stephanos = crown, otos = ear) and was originally transported by seed from Madagascar to Hawaii in the 1800s – desired for the whiteness of its flowers and its scent – one of countless plant species transplanted and cultivated for human pleasure without concern for ecological repercussions in fragile environments. Under a Constellation of Leaves embodies paradox: it evokes creative transformation and the wonders of the natural world, while addressing environmental devastation and the vulnerabilities of childhood. Dang’s installation is suffused with a sense of loss, absence, and uncertainty, yet her work calls attention to the regenerative powers of nature and the role of art in bearing witness.