Toronto

View of “Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six,” 2016. From left: Kristan Horton, Tabarium Consumer Radiation Array 004, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Moonshade Walk’r, 2016; Kristan Horton with David Armstrong Six, Tabarium: Consumer Radiation Array 001, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Dwarf Mallow, 2016. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

View of “Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six,” 2016. From left: Kristan Horton, Tabarium Consumer Radiation Array 004, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Moonshade Walk’r, 2016; Kristan Horton with David Armstrong Six, Tabarium: Consumer Radiation Array 001, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Dwarf Mallow, 2016. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six

Clint Roenisch

View of “Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six,” 2016. From left: Kristan Horton, Tabarium Consumer Radiation Array 004, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Moonshade Walk’r, 2016; Kristan Horton with David Armstrong Six, Tabarium: Consumer Radiation Array 001, 2016; David Armstrong Six, Dwarf Mallow, 2016. Photo: Toni Hafkenscheid.

In a world altered to its depths by human consumption, what will endure? Kristan Horton and David Armstrong Six’s two-person show “If by Dull Rhymes” seemed to propose that castoffs from our sinking ship have a salvageable future even if we don’t. Proliferating commodities provided the material conditions and inspiration for works of literally wasteful beauty, whose elegiac yet playful constructions craftily forecast human obsolescence.

Armstrong Six’s delicately colored freestanding assemblages made of plaster, cement, steel, and other materials conjured an undersea garden growing out of ruins. Some took the form of broken columns made of wood and murky Plexiglas, around which other, vaguely creatural forms with botanical titles—Dwarf Mallow and Opuntia X (the latter named for the cactus genus of the prickly pear), for example, both 2016—materialized. The more organic sculptures were lyrically compiled casts of boots, cans, gourds, and other objects as well as discarded molds. Often fractured or gouged, strewn with holes and barnacle-like beads and glass pebbles, they extruded branches and other appendages. The resulting aggregate forms suggested self-organizing, animated debris straining toward a marmoreal classical ideal. References to historical sculpture abounded; Michelangelo’s Slaves were clearly a touchstone, as were various modernist paradigms. Other associations, humorous and more serious, also ran through the works. Dwarf Mallow, a fishy, beige-marbled and aquamarine form, balanced a cylinder on its boxy snout like a seal. A leggy plaster figure adorned with glass pearls recalled the limbs of the fallen aerialist in Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, as though preserved beneath the waves for centuries. And the bleached remains in some of the other sculptures, with broken-off cast glove fingers and boots, invoked sea-wracked bodies mingled with rubbish, sea-changed into something rich and strange.

A transformative logic also informed Horton’s series of large panels “Tabarium: Consumer Radiation Array 001–004,” 2016, each of which juxtaposes colorful geometric patterns created from fragments of used packaging. The basic unit of each design is a flat cardboard tab—torn from a chocolate box, for instance—photographed and manipulated (reversed, rotated, repeated) to form configurations variously crystalline, cellular, and architectonic. The panels themselves, which reproduce but do not physically reuse the discarded tabs, participate in the proliferation of material things, literalizing a seemingly ineluctable pattern. If Armstrong Six’s assemblages alluded to canonical Western works, Horton’s arrays drew inspiration from African textiles and Islamic tiles and architecture. Conflating global economic and cultural exchange, Horton’s decorative forms, spread out like sails, were mounted on wooden pallets (recalling the shipping containers in which they likely once traveled) and angled away from the walls so that their bottom edges extended out into the gallery, like solar panels or shopfront awnings (one propped up by Armstrong Six’s “Icarus” leg). Two of Horton’s works departed from the tilted-panel format: a pair of framed, tiled prints imaged structures of baroque complexity, created from myriad miniature, digitally spliced maquettes constructed out of tabs. The entity in Tabarium: Form150920, 2015, appeared at once a voracious, coralline organism and a patchwork-like interstellar habitat, confounding natural and technological accretions.

A Keats sonnet provided the title for the show. “If by dull rhymes our English must be chain’d,” the Romantic poet argued (contemplating the formal restrictions of the sonnet form), poets of his generation needed to construct new rhyme schemes—“Sandals more interwoven and complete / To fit the naked foot of poesy.” Like Keats, who wanted to weave the “dead leaves” of ancient poetic laurels into a “garland” suited to an unfree but modern muse, Armstrong Six and Horton have refashioned and animated the husks of inherited forms by preserving and carefully deploying available if degraded materials. Armstrong Six almost literally offered interwoven “sandals” for the muse in the form of cast rubber boots, some stuffed one into the next, their rimy forms “cobbled” together. But both artists, bound to ancient echoes and modern junk, made a virtue of their inescapable material(ist) constraints.

Alison Syme