Marlie Mul’s exhibition “Your Wet Sleeve in My Neck” had something green and full of potential about it. In the gallery’s street-level space was a low-lying sculpture diagonally laid out in serpentine form. This piece had the smack of an extravagantly long wind instrument or hookah pipe, but in fact it had no passage for air. It consisted of lightly polished, solid-wood spindles set on the floor, joined end to end with straight or bent segments of clear PVC tubing. Each rod had a lathe-turned design for what would appear to be anachronistic stair balusters—twisted spirals, orbs, tapered ends and all—and was marbled like the endpapers of an antiquarian book—that is, they were dipped in a bath laced with marbling inks. A jealously guarded trade secret in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, marbling is today a quaint but widespread hobby. The finish is applied to everything from fingernails to fishing rods. Mul’s piece is called Me (connected) (all works 2010), but it conjures up less an artist’s self-portrait than the tricky, watery process of capturing a floating design on a lathe-turned surface. This outlandish combination of forms and techniques had a presence that fairly jumped right off the floor it lay upon.
The arrangement of these baluster-like rods within the exhibition space, moreover, seemed to point viewers to the cramped stairway leading to the second floor. There, three marbled spindles, collectively titled Sticks (Blue, Yellow, Terracotta), were placed squarely on the floor. Two were positioned parallel to each other, and the third lay diagonally further away and perpendicular to them. Mixed in with Sticks were the pieces She (angle) and She (parallel), both of which consisted of two unpolished and unpainted turned wood spindles connected by a loop of PVC. One wondered why certain sticks were Me, others She, and still others just Sticks. Mul’s rods brought to mind André Cadere’s bars, which were painted to form mathematical color permutations with an error slipped in and which he would carry around everywhere. But here it was as if Mul had replaced Cadere’s clear use of color with smoky illusion, his minimal and unusable round sticks with potentially functional decorative uprights, and his literal and performative presence with personifying titles.
Mul manages to make the preposterous seem sensible. Across the way was the triumphant ugly duckling of the show: Fraîche comme une rose (curvature with two connection parts) (Fresh as a Rose), a quarter-circle arc that swept counterclockwise from ceiling to floor, formed by three Styrofoam parts connected by two homely wads of spray polyurethane foam, a DIY material that dries instantly, freshly freezing moments of random form—much like marbling ink pulled out of water. And where spray foam is usually hidden or its excess cut away, here it forms two rosebuds of sorts that keep the whole kit and caboodle from toppling over. With this sculpture, Mul blithely took the broad and spacious route vis-à-vis modernist mores of geometric shapes in space.