Artist Tara Donovan Asks Us to Abandon What We Know and Understand About Objects

by Katharine Ernst

Haze, 2003, Plastic Straws

The materials an artist uses clearly says something about their aesthetic, but at the same time a material can be neutral enough to be transformative. Such is the case with Tara Donovan, who, by using humble, everyday materials such as plastic cups and straws, manages to create ephemeral spaces in which the viewer gets tricked. I say tricked because by utilizing utilitarian materials, Donovan provides the viewer with a passage into the work, as it is something that can be identified and use in everyday life, then she takes the clue away through the accumulation of the material. The meaning and use of scotch tape, plastic straws and styrofoam cups all of a sudden becomes revoked when one enters Donovan’s world. She denies the meaning the material imparts on her work through the sheer volume of and amount of space her work inhibits.


Haze, detail

The play on meaning versus material continues when considering the notion that plastic’s function is to preserve and protect things in our society, meanwhile Donovan’s installations are transient. She builds a tension between time and space. Generally her works usually take a number of people and days to install, but really only exist in its entirety for a moment time. Each installation the work will be different. It will exist and pass on its own accord, regaining its own life through each installation. This speaks of the materials and their interactions with the site and how they come together to surpass the meaning fundamentally ascribed to either object. Materials and site exist in a partnership that creates a new space and context for them to exist, but only for a fleeting amount of time.


Transplanted, 2001, Ripped and Stacked Paper


Transplanted, detail

Though Donovan’s work references landscape it is completely systematized, which denies any implication organic form that one might assume of an artwork that has a sense of landscape. There she is, tricking us again. Donovan has a structure that she follows by choosing a common, utilitarian material, using it in repeating increments over and over again until it feels as if it can almost keep growing and envelop your body. That changes how the viewer physically interacts with the work as well as the conception and meaning that has been prescribed to the chosen material. Tara creates works that are synonymous to occupying a human environment filled with familiar materials and an identifiable landscape. At the same time this space is completely alien to us because of the transformation the materials go through by way of Donovan’s hand.

Personally, I’d love to enter a gallery with her work. It’d be like getting fully submerged in a meditative space. Her work isn’t so much about using straws or scotch tape to make a statement about minimalism or the avant-garde. Tara uses these objects a physical material in a way that a traditional sculptor might use clay or stone. She wants you to disassociate prescribed meaning and the belief in how things are supposed to exist in order to get the viewer to take a leap of faith in art.

Ripple, 2004, Cut Electrical Wire



Untitled, 2003, Styrofoam Cups and Hot Glue


Untitled, detail


Untitled, 2001, Shattered Tempered Glass Held by Friction and Gravity Only


Untitled, detail


Untitled, 2001, Toothpicks Held by Friction and Gravity Only


Untitled, detail


Untitled, 2001, Nickle-Plated Steel Pins Held by Friction and Gravity Only


Untitled, detail


Bluffs, 2005, Buttons and Glue


Bluffs, detail


Source via Ace Gallery

Photographs via Ace Gallery

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