Washington, DC

Nicola López

Irvine Contemporary

The engagingly chaotic drawings exhibited recently by Nicola López pose a disturbing question: What happens if technology supplants nature and develops the ability to evolve? López is one of the scores of New York–based artists currently getting a career boost from their inclusion in P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center’s expansive “Greater New York 2005.” Her first show at Irvine Contemporary Art featured five ink, gouache, and graphite drawings and one somber print in which she ponders the possible consequences of a contemporary urban addiction to new technology. Devoid of human presence, the world she depicts is overrun by an anarchic tangle of pipes, ductwork, telephone lines, satellite dishes, vehicle parts, oil rigs, tires, and batteries that meet, mate, and mutate.

In each of López’s tableaux, familiar human structures—houses, neighborhoods, whole cities—are rendered subordinate to machines. Puny and defenseless, they’re almost obliterated by the technological maelstrom that surrounds them. As in Escher, perspectives are tilted and rotated; disorientation is the norm; and unadulterated nature virtually disappears. The multicolored but muted drawings feel darkly conspiratorial—depictions of a cabalistic technological force comprising selfish, omnivorous mechanical mutants who metastasize unchecked across a despoiled landscape.

López’s handling of her chosen media is deft and authoritative, making the experience of reading each landscape more like a controlled roller-coaster ride than the head-on crash it could have been. Emerging from multiple acute perspectives, characters writhe, snake, spew, thrust, stretch, and contort across the picture plane. Reticular piping coils through portions of Tailspin (all works 2005), recalling Louise Bourgeois’s skein drawings, while ductwork vomits up a miasma evocative of Ralph Steadman’s blood-and-guts illustrations. The most fully realized work in the show, it suggests a radar image of a hurricane’s eye encircled by a swirling vortex of technology.

Importantly, comedic and whimsical elements prevent such works from descending into wild-eyed Luddite rants. López extrapolates from the illogical, lobs in some gallows humor, and creates new absurdities. Just a Little Spill (the amusing title sounds like PR spin conjured up in the aftermath of an environmental catastrophe) features a spreading inky mass that is obviously far from innocuous. But in López’s world, no alarm is registered—this is the darkly funny norm. To the Last Drop (a clever elision of the Maxwell House coffee tag-line) features the vast, gaping maw of a pipe dribbling out what may just be the last drops of water left on the planet. The incongruously deadpan Fallen Giants, a multipart woodblock print on Mylar and paper, has the same aleatory characteristics as the drawings but is executed in the black, brown, and blue of an architectural plan. This utilitarian, even somber, coloration, coupled with a support gently buckled into lethargic, arrhythmic waves, creates a visual calmness and uniformity that runs counter to the colorful, animated chaos of the drawings.

Representing a more understated approach, Fallen Giants may be the most effective representation yet of the artist’s concerns. What remains unclear in the development of her composite narrative is its subjects’ ultimate destiny. Certainly, anything remotely “natural” will shrivel and die, and if her mutant characters are at all dependent on an organic host, then they too are doomed. López’s is a portrait of elements too powerful to stop but too dumb to realize that they’re evolutionarily screwed. Remind you of anyone you know?

Nord Wennerstrom