New York

Maura Sheehan

Facchetti Gallery

Play is serious. The rules, the mechanics, and the dimensions of the field or court are precise conditions. Free interpretation of the rules is not generally encouraged or enthusiastically received. The configuration and territory of play, the sobriety of the game no matter what the scale or consequences, are issues and ideas that Maura Sheehan explores incisively and, in spite of her humor, does not take lightly.

The focus of this exhibition was a large, spare installation called Surface-Tension, 1989. The most conspicuous elements of the piece were two volleyball nets that intersected to create a large X. Beneath the point where the nets met was a large white sphere. The nets and their slender poles, which stretched from floor to ceiling, were all painted black. A pattern of black lines placed parallel to the street covered the entire floor; the space between the lines diminished toward the back of the gallery, creating a dense surface rather than a precise linear effect. Where the lines reached a crescendo, space seemed to compress dramatically; an audio component of indistinguishable whining, whirring, and pinging sounds created a puzzling sense of closure.

The installation projected an overall disquietude. In spite of the modesty of its parts, the insistent lines created an authority that frustrated movement and disturbed conventional notions of play. All of the components implied the formal arrangements of a game, but the vocabulary provided no rules; the site of activity was unaccommodating and mute. The proportions of play conveyed no purpose or objective.

On the lower level of the gallery was an assortment of Sheehan’s work—some new pieces, others from earlier projects. A series of altered and reconfigured globes called “Spheres of Influence,” 1989, was arranged in a processional against one wall. In all cases, the artist had fashioned new, ludicrous, but revealing cartographic conditions. One globe enjoins the continents of South America and Africa. Another is covered entirely in brown fur and sits uneasily on a large spring. Another, made of clear and frosted Plexiglas, contains a tumbler of white fluid. The final orb of this five-part series is covered in black velvet; Africa is colored a luminous gold and the fringed equator looks like a G-string.

These brazen readjustments of the world speak vividly of surfaces and tensions. Continents are moved and realigned to propose alternative political and metaphoric conditions. Sheehan demonstrates that mapping itself is not an objective act, but a projection of the world that is desired or believed to exist. The manipulations of map-making record expectations and injustices far more vividly and accurately than they do some concrete, calculable reality. When the dimensions of play or the proportions of land masses are stretched or squeezed, the actions speak of territory—of the articulation of authority. Adjusted lines stimulate new rules. Sheehan’s powerful vision proposes that the lines, edges, and surfaces that characterize the idea of space are up for grabs.

Patricia C. Phillips