Artist Recreates 78 Tarot Cards with Sculpture, Collage, and Poetry
Autumn Casey’s new exhibition at Primary Projects features plush dolls, wooden horses, and poetic collages.
All images courtesy Autumn Casey and Primary Projects
The experience of entering a three-dimensional tarot deck is akin to viewing Autumn Casey’s solo exhibition at Primary Projects, both in its meditative quality and the title alone, Balancing Infinity, While Hanging Upside Down. Watching Lovers Fall from Grace, Underneath the Ground. There’s a piece that refers to the show’s name, too: a Ferris wheel cart strung upside down with stuffed gloves and Mickey Mouse hands dangling, their arms once blithely in the air. Below are two bears in a state of tantric ecstasy: a plush blue Care Bear’s face is straddled by a pink bear-shaped candle, that's quite literally melted into its partner. One might infer from them the tarot's Major Arcana, the Lovers. The Ferris wheel cart is the Hanged Man: the ultimate symbol of transformation, even rebirth.
The show’s name comes from a poem Casey wrote after a three-card reading, which became a daily ritual. She’d pulled the Lovers, reversed, along with the Two of Pentacles and the Hanged Man. “I asked the cards, ‘How do I describe you?’” she explains to The Creators Project. “I felt like I was the Hanged Man—and when I was able to create again, it was like an explosion. Sometimes people think spiritual growth happens in very serious moments, so this is about that reconciliation—and just like the tarot cards, there’s an underlying subtle darkness. There is positive and negative. It is always about balance.”
The language of the tarot is first about the initiations of life—the way we move through it, transforming—and then about balance: the alchemical space between two ideologies. Casey’s art practice is like that, too, her sculptures often massive but hanging precariously, her video work tenderly exploring history and memory. Balancing Infinity features a series of sculptures and 78 collages—functioning, effectively, as a tarot deck of their own—all inspired by the Rider-Waite deck.
The collages, constructed over the last three and a half years, contain, as Casey describes, “everything from old art history books […] to illustrated Shakespeare plays.” Like the unfolding of a reading, the first set of collages seemed to make themselves. “I would pull images and then infer which card it was, seeing which archetypes drove the collage,” she says. Casey’s Hermit card features a woman lighting her way through darkness, a man spinning a gradient of bright stripes, and a sleeping figure; her Three of Swords—depicted in the Rider-Waite as a heart pierced by three blades—has a bemused Charlie Brown, Snoopy atop his head. Sometimes, the pain inferred by the Three of Swords is confusing.
“The same idea fell over into the sculptures; I let them build themselves,” Casey explains. While the collages line two walls, the sculptures are spread out, creating an indoor garden of strange, delicately assembled symbols and found objects—pieces of Casey’s childhood, toys and treasures and furniture. The Fool sculpture is a frolicking wire man, clothed in a shirt sewn by Casey’s grandmother for Alice in Wonderland’s white rabbit. Judgment, Light as a Feather, a reference to the card and the Egyptian goddess Maat’s weighing of the heart, is a foam cross sprouting tiny yellow flowers, little toy growths.
On a recent visit to the space, Casey gestured to one sculpture, all flower-adorned blue yarn flowing from the curved legs of a table. “Do you want to take a guess as to which this one is?” she asked. “The Empress?” I replied. I was wrong: it was the Queen of Cups. In the Rider-Waite, she stares at her chalice, soft water pooling round her feet. Later, Casey gave her a more humanoid shape, though she’s still lush and sky-colored.
To be clear, Casey’s sculptural references to the tarot are not so specific nor immediately obvious, and her collaged cards have a life of their own. Tarot is often about the strength of the self, and so too is Balancing Infinity. To evoke the cards is really to evoke the archetypes of daily existence, the kind we experience in our own emotional landscapes—when we play the fool or or feel reborn—and, at least in the realm of an art space, we can understand these moments as we’d like. Balancing Infinity, then, is about our own interpretative power. It can mean (almost) whatever you want it to.
Autumn Casey's Balancing Infinity, While Hanging Upside Down. Watching Lovers Fall from Grace, Underneath the Ground is now on view at Primary Projects. The Art Week Miami party is on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at 7PM.