Vitrified Values is a California story. It’s author, Kelly Wall, is a native Angeleno, daughter of sun and sand and oranges and avocados. But this is a tale of new California, of burnt icons and scarred landscapes.
One shelf work, I wish I could remember these dreams and what they are trying to tell me, presents a display of souvenirs from this new California. Each hand built ceramic mug on the left references a threatened or decimated California space – Malibu, the Angeles National Forest, the Getty Center, Six Flags, along with mugs for New Low (the exhibition’s host space) and a make-believe roadside attraction Prometheus’ Pit Stop, a reference to the Greek Titan who built humans from clay and stole the fire from the gods to give to humanity. The right of the shelf features cast keychains of similar types of places – Disney-Land/Cal-Arts, not Disneyland, (in the form of Mickey Rat), Paramount Ranch, Dante’s Motel – another made-up place, and the recently burned down Bachelor mansion in Calabasas. The center of the work is a screen printed quote from Steinbeck, with obvious references to heat and solitude, with a rat lapping water from a spilled bucket.
Another shelf work, Reliquary of a Travelling Salesman (pitches, paydays & pyres), features a hand written page seemingly ripped from a notepad with rules for telling a campfire story. This is surrounded by more mugs, “Talk More Now”, this time drawn from a former newscast performance collaboration by Wall and lydon frank lettuce. A small step stool sits below the shelf, you can flip the centerpiece to reveal an image of wildlife threatened by fires.
In the center of the space sit two folding lawn chairs, the plaid kind, that rarely last more than a couple summers before they give in to the pressure of heat and human weight. But Wall’s lawn chairs are almost impossibly crafted from stained glass. These chairs flank the remains of a black clay camp fire (think Paradise, California, lost), now infested with rats. Rats reoccur in Wall’s oeuvre and in this show; this began when Wall, after humanely trying to rid her apartment from a rat infestation, was forced to have the rats exterminated. The trauma from that event has led Wall to sympathetically memorialize these creatures of survival.
Vitrification is the process of intensely heating elements until they change their composition completely – most often into glass. Wall, like many others, spent most of the early months of the COVID pandemic out of Los Angeles, in Vermont, only to drive back to California at the height of this summer’s fires. Returning home to the thick black skies over a Californian dream now charred, and changed, she began to make the work presented here.
Kelly Wall (b. 1990, Los Angeles) earned a BFA from Otis and MFA from CalArts. She is Taurus sun, Scorpio moon, and Capricorn rising.