Daisy Chain, Courtesy of Volume Gallery.
The living room cannot be trusted in "Daisy Chain," Sam Stewart’s latest solo show at Volume Gallery in West Town. Based in New York and born in North Carolina, Stewart is both a skillful furniture designer and artist. His sculptures inhabit interiors with animism and the polish of industrial design. Visitors to "Daisy Chain" enter a scene alive with wry whimsy and the unease of resemblance executed by material reproductive finesse.
Handmade in narcotizing muted shades, "Lefty #000-12" entices the visitor in from across the carpet. A dozen immaculate, oval Shaker-style boxes stack an inch over six feet tall. In the tier of serial epoxy resin casts posing as replicas from butter yellow to pewter blue, pristine fingers clasp each respective lidded surface, contents enclosed. While one dare not pry and disturb the arrangement, Stewart’s artist text reveals that their tapered interior seam divulges the secret to their laboriously molded reproduction– a gesture common to exposed welds among the other sculptures.
Sleepyhead, by Sam Stewart. Courtesy of Volume Gallery.
A roof’s plane juts from the opposite wall, and twin dollhouse dormers peer like shingled lids in "Sleepyhead." Their plastic window grates at once gape mouth-like from the slope’s dim grainy shimmer of miniature chain-glued, asphalt-dusted tiles. The meticulous piece unnerves with the suburban gothic, its anxieties drawing from the latent realm of Todd Haynes’ "Safe (1995)" or David Lynch’s "Blue Velvet (1986)." Similarly painstaking in construction, the open panels of chain linked by individual welds in the adjacent "Privacy Screen" offer futile seclusion from gazes. One must admire in Stewart’s respiteless divider a weft of sag and control that stands on splayed steel-link feet.
An austere undercurrent runs through the claustrophobic core of works. Domestic in the vein of divorcee air mattress modernism in inflatable polyvinyl oxblood, "Extended Release" discomfits guests to sink into its spill-proof, featherweight ribbed embrace. Sleek Italian sofa lines are mapped to Lincoln logs, the children's toy invented by John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright who abandoned the family in John’s childhood — another one of Stewart’s anecdotes. A stiff aluminum chaise welded from a ladder loiters nearby, "Dad Joke," gawky and all edges—readymade to be movable. Stewart’s wryness is pained, his comedy unsettles one to reflect on the disillusion of the home. A year out from the Great Resignation, knowledge workers have left corporate institutions in droves in response to the austerity burnout of stagnant wages dwarfed by the cost of living. Career downsizing and more time at home might initiate one to question the propertarian ethic: the directives of accumulation and private responsibility atomized under neoliberal life. What are millennial conceptions of the home, vacated of traditional attachments and haunted by work-from-home dread.
Yeeted Image, by Sam Stewart. Courtesy of Volume Gallery.
Finally, Stewart dispatches visitors with "Yeeted Image," a mirrorized steel trampoline angled to bounce an approaching viewer’s reflection to a nowhere corner of gallery ceiling. The interface is almost ritualistic — to spring oneself from sight or a recoil to tabula rasa. This dispossessing impulse can suggest the jarring disposability of presence to the memory. Why occlude the self with the plethora of Snapchat filters when you can vaporize the image entirely from confrontation. "Yeeted Image" reminds me that I never want to see myself reflected in the panoptic grid of Zoom again.
Amid the sinister and postmodern playful tension of Sam Stewart’s set where desire misaligns function, Daisy Chain also asks us to live with being both seduced and alienated by contemporary material conditions. Stewart has furnished us the trappings to link the dysphoria specific to midlife or millennial vagrancy, when domestic expectation may never attach to home ownership. The show is both fun and ripe with mistrust of interiors; it tickles dread and whimsy while leaving anxiety unresolved and sober.