Monika Napier

Given the severe material restrictions she imposes on her practice, Monika Napier’s sculpture is surprisingly expressive and complex. Her recent exhibition at Mercer Union featured a single, sprawling installation, Power Cord Series: nexus, 2007, which was composed solely of electrical cords, plastic twist ties, and what looked like old-fashioned price tags. Although some of the cords were plugged into outlets, any speculation about their functionality was arrested by their lack of convergence with any appliances and their dispersion throughout the gallery. Some lone cords extended from the walls, becoming whimsical looping doodles. These terminated in receptacles—bound together using the twist ties—that resembled cones, lamp shades, megaphones, hats, baskets, horns, or breasts.

Organic and craft connotations were also apparent in cords bound together into a multicolored floor covering that traversed much of the surface between two structural pillars, wrapping around them to form an enormous elongated oval. This carpet is punctuated by a bristly layer of twist ties and an array of paper tags—each bearing the name of a person and of a Canadian city. These personal and urban references are derived from acquaintances from whom Napier borrowed power cords. The carpet suggests a corresponding cartographic emphasis, especially when one considers the undulations of a surface conditioned by the varying degrees and kinds of use to which each of the cords was subjected by its previous owner. Such signs of use represent a new and welcome twist in Napier’s “Power Cord Series” (ongoing since 2004), in which she previously employed only brand-new materials.

Napier’s meticulous and prolonged on-site labors inspire acts of close observation. This happens in spite of the depersonalized and readymade aspects of the work (the hardware-store source of the cords; the “found” status of their colors). The viewer is encouraged to scan the patinated surfaces for clues about the prior contexts of the cords; a few, for instance, have intermittent paint coatings that might have been incurred in artists’ studios. One cannot help but speculate about details such as the tiny lights at the ends of some plugged-in cords that indicate they are “on”—a feeble and funny expression of electrical prowess given the number of cords in the show—or the gendered linguistic reception of “male” prongs and “female” receptacles. And one might even move toward a consideration of more sobering issues while surveying the patterns, distributions, and convergences of Napier’s composition, such as our collective dependence on inconceivably vast networks of power in the hands of corporate interests that have the awful ability to shut them down with the flip of a switch or the pull of a plug.

Dan Adler