Colin Zaug

12 September 2003 - 18 October 2003
Opening Reception 12 September 2003 8pm

Back Gallery:


From a cluttered configuration of second hand furniture and other found objects to a smooth white rolling surface, New York-based artist Colin Zaug clashes mediums and aesthetics for his sculptural installation, STACK. The sculpture adheres itself to the architecture of the gallery, dividing the space like a curtain, simultaneously creating two spaces and two sculptures. On one side of the sculpture he stacks and layers furniture, building a small and cluttered seating area, while on the other side he builds a wall out of chicken wire and plaster — almost as if he is erasing the other side. He seems to be hiding his cluttered assembly of objects, cleaning the space and in so doing, visually preparing it for “Caravan”, a large digital image of a reflected dessert landscape — reflecting off another obscured surface.

Brochure Text by Erin Shirreff

Our centuries-long separation from the land has spawned a wealth of fantasies and anxieties that have irrevocably altered how we perceive and navigate the natural world. For the past 10 years, this cultural overlay—the futile, often clumsy ways we attempt to reconnect—has provided fertile terrain for Colin Zaug’s spare, architectural sculpture; surrealist-inspired photography; and dreamlike drawings. Expansive and intimate, bulky and frail, illusory and resolutely physical, his work is replete with structural and conceptual paradoxes that deflect easy interpretation. For Zaug, meaning resides in the corners: peripheral moments and deeply ordinary objects take on an unassuming, curiously liminal presence that emulates the subconscious ground he explores.

An extension of this interest is Zaug’s abiding fascination with the subliminal impressions of our body in space. His carefully composed sculptures, which often imply an (absent) body, impart a potent kinesthesia; how they engage your body, in real and imaginary ways, is a large part of what makes them so compelling. Zaug recognizes our experience of space is inextricably tied to how we organize and move through it (maps and vehicles are recurring motifs in his work). Recent exhibitions—like at Mercer Union—are strategically laid out to create a series of subtly affecting spatial events that pull us through the gallery and activate both the objects and intervals in between.

The large embankment we first encounter in the narrow back gallery comprises a bound pile of crudely refabricated mundane objects lit from within its jumbled centre, and partially covered with a half-sphere of chicken-wire and papier mâché. Rounding the corner, the surface smoothes to a pristine, white plaster finish Zaug refers to as a “negation”; this connects the piece to an earlier series called Perfect World, in which Zaug strove to “make complicated things more simple.”(1) In both cases, furniture and common utilitarian tools are mimicked in straightforward, ham-fisted replicas made from rough and ready materials like plaster, plywood, and Styrofoam. Pared down in colour and form till they shed their real-world specificity, they serve as armatures for minimal, opaque surfaces that, from one angle, erase them completely.

Opposite the vast white plane, stretched taut and angled in the back corner, is a large billboard that depicts a desert vista reflected on the curved mirrored surface of a car’s side window. The car, dissolved by the clarity of the reflection, shapes and distorts the skyline—a mutual contouring that serves as a conceptual emblem for Zaug’s longstanding themes. Desert imagery has come to signify permanence, reliability and timelessness in popular culture (often in car commercials), but here the desert looks ever receding. Not a sign of limitless potential, just distance.

The thin, two-dimensionality of the freestanding billboard disrupts illusionary space, particularly at close range when the image disappears altogether in the fabric’s loose weave. The equal presence of surface and armature, image and material, and the distinct separation between the billboard’s front and back structurally link it to the embankment. Zaug has effectively assembled disassembled structures and assigned equal sculptural significance to their component parts, laying it all bare. His work, minimized through an almost linguistic decoding, suggests the essential parity of information, and with its curious, unfinished tone, evokes a sense of potential: for Zaug, meaning is unfixed, malleable—a negotiable, fluid field of equations. Unfolding, as it does, in space, his subtle installation likens meaning itself to a physical act that demands our active participation (conscious or not) and bears out his belief that it arises equally and richly from unexpected sources.

(1) Cline, Lynn. “Putting a Zipper on It,” Pasatiempo, Santa Fe, NM, December 31, 1999, p.25.

Download the exhibition brochure.