Yasmine El Meleegy, Emergency Room, 2016, cement, wax, dimensions variable.

Yasmine El Meleegy, Emergency Room, 2016, cement, wax, dimensions variable.

Yasmine El Meleegy

Townhouse Gallery

Yasmine El Meleegy, Emergency Room, 2016, cement, wax, dimensions variable.

Yasmine El Meleegy’s sculpture Emergency Room (all works 2016) appeared to grow on Townhouse’s factory space like a fungus, reaching across the floor and climbing the walls in lumpy protuberances. An amalgamation of construction materials and more intimate figures and domestic objects cast in wax and concrete, the piece took the rough-hewn aesthetic of the gallery’s undressed brick-and-concrete surroundings and mutated it. In this work, doll-like concrete figurines, with soft contours and exaggerated anatomies, sit beside wax molds of teapots and salt-cellars. Little cartoonish cats, also in concrete, perch on their own cinder-block precipices surrounded by wax vases and facsimiles of infant hands. At the nucleus of the sprawl is a precious, miniaturized wax room lit by a tiny and carefully rendered ceiling lamp. Little balloons float in the warmly illuminated chamber, suggesting the remnants of a family celebration evacuated of its human participants. Titled Room Maquette, the little sculpture within the sculpture glows like a pocket of safety and stability amid a strange and spreading catastrophe. This sometimes bizarre coincidence of material and emotional opposites characterized the exhibition, “Rites of Passage,” as a whole.

The bracing, achingly nostalgic show charted the rituals and physical traces of home and family. These patterns and palimpsests appeared like ghosts made material, archaeological relics of a past lost in all but memory. Doll Head, a grossly enlarged porcelain version of its model, confronted the viewer at the entrance to the show like the remains of a cyborg or golem, the sculpture’s allusions to childhood all but stymied by the cold austerity of its white surface and the empty, directionless gaze of its eyes. Miniature Sculpture made similar references to a lost and ossified domesticity, with the diminutive forms of tiny couches set around a hand and a foot made of porcelain. These dismembered body parts sit atop little marble plinths, suggesting the partial sculptural remnants of a classical past but also the spectacle of a more general fragmentation and brokenness. In any case, the work implies an irrevocable loss, its small objects conjuring a vague but piercing melancholia. Like the deserted space at the center of Emergency Room, this family room is devoid of human presence and color, casting domestic space into a spectral grayness.

Projected before the seating of Miniature Sculpture, like a movie on a massive screen for an absent, scaled-down audience, was Video—Vase. The short video shows a set of hands from above as they mend a broken ceramic vase, applying glue to the edges of the shattered fragments and then carefully piecing them together. The tender care in the hands’ movements suggests the personal investment associated with family keepsakes, while the vase in its broken state evokes the eventual loss of all valued possessions and ways of life. The slow and meticulous work of memory endeavors to heal the wound, but the results are always imperfect. As the agent of this labor, the video’s mostly unseen protagonist seems to want to reconstruct the sort of belonging sweetly captured in a small untitled painting of a joyous family in the same festively decorated space featured in Room Maquette. But even here, in El Meleegy’s only work in the show to depict human beings in the embrace of togetherness, there is a wraithlike quality, as if the figures will fade into the individual brushstrokes and vanish forever from sight.

Dan Jakubowski