PRINT April 2019


Trulee Hall, Golden Corn Entryway with Boob Fountain, 2018, wood, Styrofoam, resin, papier-mâché, acrylic, aquarium pebbles, gold leaf, ceramic, recirculating water pump, carpet. Installation view, Maccarone, Los Angeles, 2019.

THE EXHIBITION’S NOBLE INGRESS was Golden Corn Entryway with Boob Fountain (all works 2018), a gold-leafed Styrofoam-and-papier-mâché cave with ten-foot-tall corn ears erect, like thighs parted to give birth, on either side of its big hole. The fake artifact recalled the monumental Siq leading to the ancient desert city of Petra in present-day Jordan, but it was also a queer tribute to Niki de Saint Phalle’s Hon, 1966. Ceramic boobs mounted like rotund stalactites on the cave’s inner walls dripped milk into fonts, which excited my baby. To quell her, I thrust her silicone minicorn teether into her mouth. This toy is like an offering to the Hopi and Diné Corn Mothers; Aztec Centeotl, the trans god of maize (born goddess, became male); and flower prince Xochipilli (reigning over flowers, maize, and the arts, he’s the flamboyant patron of male homosexuals and male prostitutes).

Trulee Hall, Golden Corn Entryway with Boob Fountain, 2018, wood, Styrofoam, resin, papier-mâché, acrylic, aquarium pebbles, gold leaf, ceramic, recirculating water pump, carpet. Installation view, Maccarone, Los Angeles, 2019.

After I gazed into Nosey Peeper, with its motorized ceramic corncob pumping in and out of an orifice cut into drywall, I spied, across the massive gallery space, Humping Corn, Ballet Baskets (with Black Cloud), a kinetic sculpture suspended from warehouse rafters strewn with dangling corn-ear tchotchkes. They’re all found objects from junk shops, save for one ceramic mother ear, bulbous and lumpy—the queen talisman carved by Trulee Hall herself. Corn is a phallic symbol, and has appeared in fertility and abundance rites. Hall is interested in how it represents the manipulation of nature by humans, given corn’s seven-thousand-year-old cultivation history from the scrawny grass teosinte. She also digs corn, baskets, chickens, and eggs as “cliché Southern-style decorations that romanticize country living, fake versions of ‘nature,’ and ‘simpler times.’” This all alludes to her Georgia upbringing, during which, she says, “my dad was really into decorating, and that was my earliest primary visual influence.” These kitsch mementos, elevated to amulet status when used as props for her “haunted house” aesthetic, as she calls it, become cosmology. They hark back to both yesteryear’s thrift store and 10,000 bce, when Neolithic agriculture kicked in. Tokens of anthropocentrism, they embody both pastoralism run amok and the deep time of our ancestors.

Trulee Hall, Humping Corn, Ballet Baskets (with Black Cloud), 2018, motors, wood, chicken wire, papier-mâché, resin, acrylic, aquarium pebbles, gold leaf, found objects, ceramic. Installation view, Maccarone, Los Angeles, 2019.

“The Other and Otherwise,” Hall’s first solo show, was impressive in its ambition, filling Maccarone’s fifty-thousand-square-foot Los Angeles gallery with multiple large-scale installations, twenty paintings, ten floor-and-ceiling sculptures, and eleven videos that jump-cut comically among live-action choreography, clay animation, and 3-D computer animation, all made by Hall, down to the soundtracks, over four years. Individually, Hall’s works are rough-hewn: Her paintings brilliantly embrace pastiche; she slathers and smears handprints on the surfaces of her installation walls (see Polkadot Bedroom, Nightmare Set [Girl/Monster]); and she builds her sculptures—frequently taking the form of girthy wads or globby intestinal coils—by shoving rainbow-colored aquarium gravel into papier-mâché mixed with resin. Because she likes to combine and confound genders, she girls up anything that feels too buff or macho—adorning crude phallic forms with delicate lace; glossing over flat, butch paint treatments; or poking teeny, alluring peepholes in painting panels. Her tragicomic, satirical, multimedia explorations of abject themes through installation, performance, and collections of weird stuff can’t help paying homage to Mike Kelley, with whom Hall had “an intense, symbiotic creative dialogue.” But Kelley’s influence stops there. The exhibition felt wildly conceived, as if a beautifully fussy bird-of-paradise had made it, pinning gleaned objects together into an elegantly organized, sturdily constructed labyrinth.

Trulee Hall, Sexy Chicks Diptych (Good Girl, Bad Girl), 2018, diptych, oil and acrylic on canvas, left: 28 × 24 1⁄2“; right: 28 1⁄2 × 22”.

The degree of variation was consistent across the works on view; the cohesion was both thematic and visual. Contrasting colors simplified navigation through the gallery and guided the eye toward each subsequent installation. Pink/green, black/white, red/green, blue/white: The polarizing palettes demonstrated Hall’s penchant for locating convergence and comfort in opposition and contradiction. Archetypal characters populating paintings and videos also created consistency through antithesis. For example, Sexy Chicks Diptych (Good Girl, Bad Girl) embodies, for Hall, two “types” of clichéd, eroticized femininity that are, to her mind, opposites: one cheerful and vacuous, the other brooding and brainy. Painted in the style of pinup porn, each panel shows a lingerie-clad woman fondling a chicken; one bird is white, the other black. Hall used to keep chickens when she lived at the eccentric folk-art palace Zorthian Ranch, in Altadena, California; these birds are also portraits of her two favorite hens.

View of “Trulee Hall: The Other and Otherwise,” 2019, Maccarone, Los Angeles.

Motifs bind ideas into a macrocosmic mythology. Sexuality, in particular, is myriad in its presentations. Despite her riffs on porn imagery, it’s clear that Hall’s objectification of the already objectified is critical of the male gaze, while still positing that sexuality should remain fun, weird, and celebratory. She finds unpredictability in the predictable, thus recharging hackneyed imagery with erotic surprise. The mixed-media installation Fertility Dance in Vagina Corner was a black-curtained peep show that was wedged in a gallery corner. Inside the veiled space was the bottom half of a woman’s torso, wonky in papier-mâché, her pussy at eye level, extending both a challenge and an invitation. She stood over an ersatz mirrored pool of water, and one peered down through her legs to see a projection inside her crotch. The video, featuring characters playing out some Lucifer Rising–like alchemical ceremony, served up kundalini—the internal made external, the soul made corporeal. This secret screened treat was so unexpected that one forgot that the wet, generative aperture was reflecting the woman’s reproductive center.

The exhibition felt wildly conceived, as if a beautifully fussy bird-of-paradise had made it, pinning gleaned objects together into an elegantly organized, sturdily constructed labyrinth.

Trulee Hall, Polkadot Bedroom, Nightmare Set (Girl/Monster), 2018, mixed media with two-channel video (color, sound, 10 minutes 33 seconds). Installation view, Maccarone, Los Angeles, 2019.

Hall’s approach to gendered themes involves abrupt inversions, such as fantasizing the effeminate from a pansexual tomboy’s perspective. Here, gender-neutral and nonbinary characters role-play stock binary positions, giving them new life. Drag is central in her videos and paintings; skin colors range into alien blue and green hues; body types morph across the spectrum; cultural and ethnic references tend toward the ancient (Egyptian, Abyssinian, Aztec) but mostly derive from her dream zones. She imagined character dramas first, then built installations for her personae to fulfill their fantasies. The fractured narratives express moods and sexual play. Pink Lattice Room Relations, 2018, a video starring three figures spanking one another and rubbing themselves on baskets in a room decorated with artificial flowers, gaudy lattice, and Astroturf, played in a cubic sculpture that invited the viewer to climb inside for reverie. Ceramic boobs festooned the outside of this interactive piece, and paintings of drag queens installed on papier-mâché-slathered walls (and bearing the claw marks of Hall’s hands) implicated viewers in the spanking. The performance on-screen demanded our performance, again undercutting the passive, objectifying gaze of gallerygoers who gawk at art from afar.

Trulee Hall, Fertility Dance in Vagina Corner, 2018, mixed media with single-channel video (color, sound, 1 minute 46 seconds). Installation view, Maccarone, Los Angeles, 2019

Hall’s art can also be enjoyed as a series of freaky rides in a phantasmagorical amusement park. Notably, she used to work as a set designer at Six Flags, which also might have helped in her countless contributions to Kelley’s “Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction” series, 2000–11. “Six Flags is where I learned how to build and build big,” she says. “Also learned about vacuum forming, resins, carving and coating, faux finishing, etc. Drove huge trucks across the country full of crap. One of the few women working in a construction setting, too. Character building. Didn’t shy away from anything. Learned a ton! I’ve always loved fake worlds.”

Six stills from Trulee Hall’s Pink Lattice Room Relations, 2018, HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 28 seconds.

Hall’s art is carnivalesque sans exploitation; it worships unencumbered desire and inclusivity. Her hands-on, hypertactile work is an antidote to screen culture, despite her inclusion of screens. The work’s participatory quality mimics the way our culture constantly exhorts us to participate. Yet the invitation is not a demand: It can take us or leave us and will have a good time either way. It doesn’t force or coerce viewers to dive in, or instrumentalize its audience like so much participatory art does today. The idea of the human manipulation of nature, à la corn, is relevant here: If Hall were a corn farmer, she wouldn’t pump her corn full of chemicals; instead, she’d invite it to grow bigger, juicier kernels by singing and dancing.

This exhibition felt like trauma, catastrophe, and recovery all filtered and transformed through the physical joy of working with haptic matter. Hall’s send-ups and sometimes cartoonish reinventions of stereotypes, her thematic play with light and dark, and her frisky, impish transformation of body horror into body celebration recalled the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art’s germinal 1992 exhibition, “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s,” which, as its curator Paul Schimmel explained, highlighted the region’s apocalyptic aesthetic—the “dark underside of the standard image of L.A. as a sunny mecca of hedonism, populated by vacuous characters: beach bunnies and surfers, wannabe actors and actresses, movie moguls.” Hall is part of a new generation of Los Angeles artists who’ve grown up on a steady diet of Kelley, Liz Larner, Paul McCarthy, Jim Shaw, Marnie Weber, and Megan Williams, to name a few from “Helter Skelter.” One needs conducting rods, like art practice, to ground and harmonize chaos and to reclaim it as that renewable resource, ecstasy. 

Trinie Dalton lives in Joshua Tree, California. Her seventh book, Destroy Bad Thoughts Not Yourself (2018), is available through the PIT Gallery in Los Angeles.