Los Angeles

Kate Newby, Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda, 2015, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

Kate Newby, Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda, 2015, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

Kate Newby

Laurel Doody

Kate Newby, Two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda, 2015, mixed media. Installation view. Photo: Fredrik Nilson.

“The main thing is to tell a story,” Frank O’Hara declares in “Fantasy,” which appeared in his seminal 1964 collection Lunch Poems. In the text, O’Hara slaloms back and forth between daydreams of Helmut Dantine, the Nazi antihero of the 1943 film Northern Pursuit, and tending to an ailing Allen Ginsberg, who spends the poem wrestling with indigestion behind a bathroom door. The story the poet tells has no single narrative but skitters between reverie and a makeshift recipe for Alka-Seltzer.

Kate Newby borrowed O’Hara’s formula—“two aspirins a vitamin C tablet and some baking soda”—as the title for both her exhibition and its sole work. The multimedia installation was on view at Laurel Doody, a gallery nested in the second floor of a residential complex on a tree-lined street just off Wilshire Boulevard’s Miracle Mile. Like the poet before her, Newby emphasizes the quotidian character of her work, positioning complex formal responses to her surroundings as if they were incidental observations of a casual passerby. The artist has carved out a practice that mixes pinprick interventions with major architectural overthrows, coaxing a fleet-footed lyricism from such common building materials as concrete and brick. For this installation, she started by stripping the floors of the gallery, a move that offset the domestic accent of the interior while imbuing the space with equal measures of vigor and vulnerability. Newby then covered nearly a third of the room with a surrogate carpet of bricks, which she had subjected to various alterations while they were still in the factory. These were laid flat across the floor, the intentional gaps and misalignments in their coursing aggravated by the tiny acts of violence Newby inflicted on the clay before the bricks were fired. These ranged from hatch marks scored into the surface, to shallow craters lined with melted glass, to dusty blooms of zinc residue left from pennies pressed into the clay, only to explode in the heat of the kiln. Once the bricks had been baked and assembled, the artist added a handful of what she calls her “pocket charms,” a half-found, half-fabricated collection of odds and ends comprising aluminum pull-tabs, bottle caps, nails, and ceramic stones that had been painted to look like pebbles. Rounding off the assortment was a set of talon-like metal awls that Newby had sand-cast as tools for working the clay. No bigger than a finger, each instrument bore the impressions of its making, preserving the various imperfections of the casting process.

As part of her bid to redefine the gallery space, Newby pushed her installation beyond the bounds of the existing architecture into the areas immediately outside the windows, which were left open. Two clear glass objects, made to look like rocks but sized and shaped like lungs, sat perched on the outside ledge—a nearly invisible intrusion into the residential landscape. Suspended from a nearby tree was a set of icicle-shaped wind chimes in silver, steel, and ceramic, strung together on rough cords, suggesting a necklace of twigs or a mouthful of long, skinny teeth. This free exchange of the indoors and outdoors was formalized in one final, seemingly spontaneous gesture: a puddle of pale yellow beeswax, which fixed a handful of black, larva-like flower stamens to the wooden floorboards, not far from the gallery door.

Brought together, the various components of the installation produced an impression not unlike that of an animal’s lair, where bits of fur and undigested bones testify to past brutalities, unrelated save for their role in the larger enterprise of sustaining a living creature. Like O’Hara with his Lunch Poems, Newby deploys her fragmented gestures in the service of a greater alchemy. Unlike the poet’s homemade remedy, however, Newby’s work provides little relief, inducing a wearying state of wariness in the viewer, lest they miss “the main thing.”

Kate Sutton