A large, imposing white arrow marks the floor of Inna Babaeva’s solo show at Tiger Strikes Asteroid gallery. Helplessly, one’s eye is drawn to the area it points to—a wood-paneled space where uniform black chairs and nondescript wall clocks are placed strategically, it seems, at odds with each other. But the objects and those around them are all ‘infected’: amorphous, slug-like blobs invade clock faces, the seats of the stools and chairs, and the mouths of plastic wine glasses. Sprayed in fluorescent gradients, these foam and paint sculptures represent Babaeva’s guerilla interventions upon conformist mass production. Similar to a game of "odd one out," they exist as alien forms in a clinical space otherwise only filled with utilitarian IKEA furniture and homewares.
Babaeva is a native of Lvov, Ukraine. She grew up under the communist scrutiny of the Soviet Socialist Republic, a fact that lends a more sinister edge to the exhibition, It’s the Little Things That Matter. A kinetic rebellion is felt in the foam sculptures, whose overwhelmingly drippy shapes and soft textures—which would look like mold but for their day-glo colors—clash appropriately with the austere, perfect edges of the clocks, the chairs, the shelves, and other cookie-cutter furniture. Babaeva’s wayward organisms threaten the kitsch ‘designer’ consumerism, breaking away from a mold that, like the imposing arrow aforementioned, can be an oppressive guide.
On one wall, a piece—Late Arrival, 2015—consisting of 18 “Rusch” IKEA wall clocks provides most of the exhibition’s accidental soundtrack. In the tiny gallery space, a series of solid ticks are heard merging with each other, a soothing or stressful sound, depending on the viewer. Only one clock is infected here, but all follow a formula: they are each set exactly one hour apart. This challenges our perception of linear time and our collective understanding of how we organize our lives (by seconds, by minutes, by hours), as well as speaking to the globalization and international influence of IKEA amidst differing time zones. Nearby, a set of hangers rest on a white clothes railing, three of them bulbous and engorged with the colorful foam sculptures. Poking fun at the materialistic consumer, Babaeva has titled these three hangers Sartorial, 2015, Dressed to kill, 2016, and Victim of fashion, 2016. Each work is retailed at roughly 2,000 times the price of the IKEA hanger, proposing a double poke at mass consumerism, and at the art world’s propensity to transform dust to gold by validation of a gallery’s white walls.
Originally, these works lived within an actual IKEA store (most probably at the Red Hook branch, a gallery representative tells us); Babaeva’s guerilla repurposings were actual interventions and apparently didn’t cause much fuss. (IKEA employees, according to the same aforementioned representative, barely batted an eyelid as they watched her place her doctored clock among the original ones.) In the exhibition space, a booklet in the style of an IKEA catalogs featuring documented photographs of the project is sold for $10. This is where Babaeva’s infiltrations of IKEA end rather abruptly—while it would have been fun to see her continue experimenting, and to touch on IKEA’s low prices, a major reminder that this is foremost an art exhibition looms in the form of large dollar signs. But there are still elements that mimic life, a.k.a., IKEA life: just as in the highly polished arenas of living quarters in-store, guests at the exhibition opening made themselves comfortable by sitting on, and moving around, the identical black stools.
The Inna Babaeva show It’s the Little Things That Matter is on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid gallery through June 26, 2016.