Katie Bell’s Miami adventure

Contributed by�Rob Kaiser-Schatzlein /� Katie Bell‘s work, comprising scavenged construction debris, skirts the line between sculpture and assemblage. Bell combed Miami for a month to source the materials for��Backsplash,” her most recent solo show, which opened at Locust Projects September 10. Among the must-finds on her list were, as she says, “scraps of drywall, scraps of wood, house paint, and a hot tub.”

Katie Bell
Katie Bell at Locust Projects in Miami. All images: Zack Balber with Ginger Photography Inc.

The gallery put out a call to its network of members, collectors, and benefactors; Bell began her search as soon as she arrived in Miami. �It was all a little surreal. I was going in fancy homes in gated communities, just to check out their leftover house paint in a closet in the most seamy corner of their house,” said Bell. “Another member of [Locust’s] board builds and owns hotels, so she had a full construction crew, and I got to go look through warehouses full of junk.�

During the two weeks she spent driving all over Miami-Dade County, there were also, she said, “a lot of wild goose chases to meet Craigslist people.” Still, said Bell, �I feel like I got good stuff because I was able to really hold out for certain things. In that way, it ended up being more about the place I made it than other installations I had done.�

Katie Bell
Katie Bell, Backsplash, 2016. Installation view.

What’s gained from her insistence upon the right�material is reflected in “Backsplash,” wherein objects are specifically of Miami, yes, but also of the passing moment. The work this consolidates cultural memory.

Bell was especially determined to locate a hot tub. In past works she had used large fragments of a fiberglass Jacuzzi, which seem to conjur a potent evocation of empty bourgeois luxury. For Bell, the tub adds elements of beauty and spatial dynamism to the work as a whole. Many of the tubs she saw failed on both counts, but she finally found one worth salvaging. �After going to look a lot of different hot tubs, some too nasty to even use, the one I found was in a house for sale. It was just trashed like everything else in the house.�

katie bell
Katie Bell.

“Backsplash” is divided into two rooms, one a wall installation, the other a sculpture (of sorts). As Bell describes it, the front (installation) room is “like the explosion,” and the back room is “the aftermath.” The “aftermath” is a 24-foot long piece of collected debris on cork flooring. A walkway flanks the long edge of the room, causing the viewer to look at the piece as if it were a stage or natural history museum diorama. This room could be interpreted as a handsome rendering of the future ruins of Miami, but it is still in motion, warning of chaos yet to come. Dowels pierce the walls and jut out at all angles; giant springs abound; a faux-Grecian column tilts without regard for gravity.

Katie Bell
Katie Bell.

The work has an experimental quality, as encouraged by Locust Project. �I�m not sure how to talk about it yet,� Bell said. “There’s something important about composing an image in a painting space, unlike a sculptural space where you walk around it. It was like a dream that happened only in Miami. Now I’m back in Brooklyn, still wondering what happened.�

“Katie Bell: Backsplash.” Locust Projects, Miami, Florida. Through October 8, 2016.

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