Paper or Plastic: Ester Partegàs, More World at Foxy Production

More World, Installation View. Courstey of the artist and Foxy Production, New York. Photo by Mark Woods.

I love New York but let’s face it—it’s rough around the edges. Chain link fencing is omnipresent, garbage floats in toxic puddles, and plastic bags are permanent residents. Even nice apartments in Brooklyn and Queens usually have untamable back yards. It is as if the second you turn your back, nature starts aggressively reclaiming land from the pavement.  This push/pull of the urban ecosystem serves as a launching point for Ester Partegàs’ More World, her current show at Foxy Production.

Part capitalist critique, part ode to the everyday, Partegàs aims to discover spirituality in the margins of consumer culture, urban abandonment, and industrial decay. As such, the installation feels appropriately vacant. The walls, covered in black and white wallpaper depicting a ratty expanse of chain link fence, turn what should be an eye sore into high design.

Ester Partegàs You Are Here, 2010. Lightbox, inkjet ultrachrome archival print 50 x 72 in. (lightbox) Courstey of the artist and Foxy Production, New York. Photo by Mark Woods.

While elevating trash is nothing new in art, Partegàs has a knack for knowing when to exercise supreme control and when to recede. In a group of tree sculptures, each titled Overcast, bags are tied over the branches as if to protect from the elements. At first glance, they seem like castoffs from the Home Depot Garden Center. However, the plastic is heavier than that of your average Hefty bag, making them feel more smothered than protected. The leaves are fluorescent pink and orange, so there is no mistaking these for hyper accurate botanical representations.  A similar real/not real dichotomy exists in You Are Here, a light box photograph of a disjointed woodsy scene. The dream-like slippage in continuity, it turns out, comes from the fact that this is actually a pieced together photograph of a construction fence made to look like a forest. Surprise!

Ester Partegàs, Organized Fries, 2010. Inkjet Ultrachrome archival print 35 x 29-1/2 in. Courstey of the artist and Foxy Production, New York. Photo by Mark Woods.

In a series of inkjet prints called Organized Fries, Partegàs classifies and meticulously arranges french fries like a fast-food anthropologist from the future. Realism and abstraction mingle expertly in these, as every bend, wobble and burnt end helps create a rhythmic pattern. Reminiscent of Mondrian’s Pier and Ocean series, there is something elemental going on here that manages to squeeze as much sublime as is possible from an order of fries, regardless of how rewarding they are at 3AM…when you’re drunk and/or stoned.

Studies In Mysticism (Purple Target), 2010. Acrylic and graphite on paper 41 x 31 in. Courstey of the artist and Foxy Production, New York. Photo by Mark Woods.

In the Studies for Mysticism series, Partegàs depicts unfolded candy boxes with the logos removed, revealing the cosmic underpinning behind the consumerist come-on of commercial packaging. This intersection of belief, illusion and reality is the core of the show. The American dream, so full of promise, can be a tough sell in the face of reality. Partegàs knows this, but she doesn’t simply go for the maudlin narrative of a “Don’t Litter” campaign or a pessimistic corporate critique. Reaffirming the power of individuals and artists to make their own reality, it’s as if she lifts the curtain on the American dream, sees it for what it is, and then gently puts it back. In other words, the way we conceal our reality is more poetic, and just as real, as any hard truth.