Los Angeles

View of “Stephanie Taylor,” 2012–13.

View of “Stephanie Taylor,” 2012–13.

Stephanie Taylor

Samuel Freeman

View of “Stephanie Taylor,” 2012–13.

By boggling the name of gallerist “Sam Freeman,” LA artist Stephanie Taylor arrived at “Swam Sea Span,” the title of her recent show at his space. These three words, in turn, generated not just a punning narrative but also a set of related art pieces—six prints and three sculptures. As an introduction, a chantey-style hymn periodically sounded from a triangular speaker cabinet, telling the tale of an ill-fated channel crossing by a swimmer bearing, among other items, an ax, a foghorn, and a bottle of brandy. Such narration seemed to offer the possibility of deciphering the surrounding works (all cited, 2012), which, despite their clear hues, were semantically murky. The amorphous Channel Prop, for example, a six-foot-tall piece of lauan and Europly painted teal, resembled a body of water, and perhaps the concrete-and-steel “floats” at the base of Ropes and Buoys (whose thick line scaled the height of the gallery wall) suggested the depths to which our burdened protagonist might sink. But looser logic ruled these seas, with associations springing as much from some semblance of a story line as from haphazard rhymes between works.

Paralleling and parodying the “straight line” of an exhibition’s execution, from conception to interpretation, this show plied the choppy waters of meaning-making. Take, for example, “Milk/Cream,” a series of silk-screened diptychs depicting globular forms floating like mini oil spills between the words START and FINISH. Rather than probing the empirical terms of a given space, Taylor favors the pseudo-structure of her hidden and malleable stories. This is demonstrated by her rhyme “program,” which she has utilized in previous shows: sets of hand-drawn tables of linguistic mutations that suggest her primary organizing logic to be taste. “Associating” objects into art, she generates an exhibition not for but from the site. Though this show may have been specific to Samuel Freeman, the works shown were not tied to that gallery. Rather, Taylor’s pieces exist independent of their originating context, like the copper-plated bronzes Poppers and Hopper, produced by Taylor in 2007 for “Kale for Stray Bunny” at LA’s Daniel Hug Gallery, now adrift in “Swam Sea Span.”

Taylor’s indulgently idiosyncratic procedure leads viewers to ponder such idiosyncratic formal decisions as the high placement of Mammal’s Distress (a lithograph with the phrases MAMMAL’S DISTRESS and WITH NO RAFT) or the sideways orientation and triangular frame of Damp, which bears the stamp of a swimmer in an India-rubber suit. Those who have attempted to “solve” this exhibition likely soon found themselves grasping for the aid of an organizing text. The silly couplets of the chantey, the words START and FINISH, and the exhibition’s checklist with its all-important titles offered lifelines. Writers tackling Taylor’s shows tend to cling to others’ analyses (in particular, to a theory-laden defense of Taylor published in X-TRA by Vanessa Place).

But Taylor is out there, already ahead, trailing chains of rhymes through straits of her own making. Most find this cold-water hobby a bit extreme; others endeavor to transcribe objects back into sounds, back into written language—to recoup “sense,” even to rationalize this work as paradox—or to narrate their way out of bottomless signification, only to plunge in once again.

Travis Diehl