Victoria Haven

Howard House Contemporary Art

With the droll title “Borg Drawings: Resistance is Futile,” Victoria Haven’s first exhibition at Howard House, in 2000, consisted of drawings and wall sculptures in which simple shapes proliferated uncontrollably. There, the basic three-dimensional box composed of twelve lines—built out of common office materials such as colored tape and rubber bands stretched over pins—assembled itself into a fantastic architecture. Corrals, ramps, tunnels, roller-coaster tracks, and scaffolding pushed and pulled the viewer between two and three dimensions. At times they were simply a series of flat shapes on a wall, at others a structure that seemed to have real entry points and might actually accommodate a body. Fully present but as fragile as philosophical constructs, these works would have appealed as much to Italo Calvino as to Trekkies who might have appreciated the title’s allusion.

Although “Borg Drawings” had a kind of cellular logic, Haven’s new show, “Wonderland,” revealed a more organic, explicitly natural view of things. Halo (all works 2004) is nearly invisible: an arrangement of hundreds of Mylar ellipses that move breezily from one end of the gallery to the other like bubbles or air molecules, pinned at a distance from the wall so that shadow play becomes as significant as the solid material. From some angles, the shadows are the only visible part of the installation—a pale and delicate gray except where Haven has preempted the laws of optics by painting a shadowy curve of equally delicate blue onto the wall behind several of the forms. In Wonderland, she has excised a contour map of a magnificent mountain out of wood-grain contact paper. Overlaid, intersecting, and tangential shapes form rocky outcroppings, peaks, and ravines, their tremendous bulk mitigated by the laciness of the cutout, by the precision of the scalpel that created it, and by the insect pins that make the work hover just off the wall. This last element, hardly a logical use for contact paper (which is designed to adhere to another surface), gives the work real wit. As usual, Haven has chosen her materials with an attention to detail that is as conceptual as it is aesthetic; here, the artist uses a material that is patently and almost comically fake to construct a lively and rather lovely version of reality.

The mountainous landscape reappears in a series of smaller works and drawings: a mirrored Mylar version that reflects the gallery lights (Mirror Mountain); a fragile though curvy and sinuous cutout made of tiny hatched lines; and a set of ink drawings that are more quietly spectacular, fusing the constructed and the spontaneous in diagrams for impossible objects.

Whatever those objects might be, Haven returns again and again to the view of landscape, to how little visual information we need to believe that we’re looking at a horizon. She’s not particularly invested in fooling us, but part of the satisfaction of her best work is the conflict between the abstract and the figurative. Even in her more prescriptive shapes (like the Borg cubes), Haven works with an intuitive ease that softens what might otherwise seem harsh or obsessive. You feel very keenly that she sets limits for herself on some aspects of a piece but not on others, so that her work tends to move freely, conjuring a world that might be all around us, but unlike the Borg, isn’t going to swallow us whole.

Emily Hall