Stopped, Westviews Through Ontario, 2017. Wood, tarps, insulation, and pegboard, 12 x 16 x 1 ft. Photo: Scott Rudd

Krista Clark: Change of Plans

In Krista Clark’s deft hands, the languages of architecture and sculpture collide, with line, composition,
color, volume, and space all coming into play. Her works are crafted from materials typically associated with the building process, but their engagement of space and their relationship to the human body propel them into a deeper conversation. This focus is somewhat surprising for an artist whose graduate major was printmaking, yet Clark’s MFA thesis show in 2016 instigated her change of direction. Given a wall of the gallery to present her work, she used her prints as the building blocks for a larger composition, which incorporated scraps of building materials that she draped and leaned from the wall. The process of working floor to ceiling led her to think about the wall not only as a support for her work, but also as an integral participant.

Blind Plans, 2018. Paper and construction fencing, 43 x 30 in. Photo: Courtesy the artist

Just one year later, Clark was invited to create an installation for the prestigious “Fictions” exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem. By this time, she had given up her prints altogether, allowing the architecture of the space to be the substrate of her assemblage constructions. Embracing materials such as tarps, fencing, pegboards, pink foam insulation, and plywood, she designed her composition to respond to its location. The stacked, draped, folded, and cut materials in Stopped, Westviews Through Ontario (2017) read like a jazz composition as they riffed down the wall, revealing her interest in shape through juxtapositions of the rectilinear and the curvaceous. The installation also showed a skilled handling of color, with primarily neutral whites, grays, and tans interrupted by punctuations of bright pink, royal blue, and pale green.

Always interested in pushing boundaries, Clark turned the wall itself into the work with Once Removed (2018). Knowing that the gallery space was slated for demolition, she reversed her typical approach. Rather than building on the wall, she cut into it to reveal the substructure beneath. The repeated patterns of metal studs and the more organic arrangement of pink foam insulation that she excavated became the elements on which she built her installation, using removed drywall, plywood planks, and roofing nails to complete the composition.

Annotations on Shelter 5, 2021. Concrete, fiberglass, wood, and bungee cord, 96 x 48 x 30 in. Photo: Dario Lasagni

The liminal space between construction and deconstruction fascinates Clark. She finds beautiful moments within buildings on the verge of collapse, as materials droop and lean. Similarly, she is enticed by the footprints of new building sites, with their poured concrete foundations and skeletons of wood or steel. She confronts such sights often as she traverses the city of Atlanta, which has adopted the phoenix as its mascot and adheres to the principle of constantly tearing down the old to build the new.

Clark’s interest in the life cycle of architecture came to the fore in her solo exhibition “Base Line of Appraisal” at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia in 2019. For this group of large-scale installations, she expanded her repertoire of materials and processes, pouring concrete foundations and constructing stud walls, which she adorned with draped electrical cords, construction lights, and window casings. Some assemblages came off the walls, while others were free-floating, which forced viewers to wander in and among the interventions. Light became a more complicit element as shadows drew lines drawn across the floor and against walls. By keeping the installations close to a typical eight-foot ceiling height, she was able to counter the cavernous gallery space and bring her work back to human scale. The effect was unnerving; viewers were uncertain if they had walked through a site of construction or deconstruction.

Installation view of “Base Line of Appraisal,” MOCA GA, Atlanta, Georgia, 2019. Photo: Mo Jahangir

“Base Line of Appraisal” proved a turning point for Clark, who has since fully embraced the idea of the sculptural object. For a solo show at Spencer Brownstone Gallery in New York, she created Repose (2019), a table-like structure built using segments of raw two-by-fours as the legs and a plank of insulated wallboard as the top, supporting a stack of thin concrete slabs. A study in contrasts, the work juxtaposed the frilly edges of the wallboard and the stark rectilinear base, contrasting the warmth of the insulation and the coolness of the concrete slabs. Though Repose embraced a material vocabulary similar to that of her earlier work, it differed in intent as it began to function as an object in space rather than a space to inhabit.

Annotations on Shelter 3, 2021. Concrete, tent, work light, and extension cord, 54 x 96 x 48 in. Photo: Dario Lasagni

While Clark’s work is never overtly explicit, it is impossible to use the language of urban space without evoking issues of transience, homelessness, and migration. This was particularly apparent in the two sculptures that she contributed to the 2021 New Museum Triennial “Soft Water Hard Stone.” In Anno- tations on Shelter 3, a bright orange tent lit from the inside looked warm and inviting. Yet its positioning on the wall rather than the floor, combined with a large cement foundation protruding from the entrance, made it impossible for any human to inhabit. The wall sculpture Annotations on Shelter 5 presented similar obstacles; viewers wanting to examine the pink insulation, cement, wood, and bungee cord composition closely needed to walk around a plank jutting from the wall at eye height. Both works simultaneously invited and repelled viewers, echoing the push and pull experienced by the many people who desire but cannot attain stable housing.

Measured and Reformed Constitutions, 2022. Pastel, graphite, and carbon paper, 11 x 17 in. Photo: Fredrik Brauer

Clark’s very active drawing practice engages in a direct conversation with her sculpture. Both aspects of her work are heavily steeped in overlapping planes of shape and color, and both focus on how we consider space. Elements like line, so important in drawing, find their way into her sculptures with the introduction of an electrical cord or the drape of a fabric. Her drawings, in turn, echo characteristics found in the materials that she embraces in her sculptures, stacking layers of paper over one another or perforating the surface with repeated patterns. When exhibited together—as in “After Barkley,” Clark’s recent exhibition at Sandler Hudson Gallery in Atlanta—insightful dialogues connect her two practices, as she explores similar themes in two-dimensional and three-dimensional space.

The lack of a formal degree in either sculpture or architecture frees Clark from the encumbrances of precedent in those disciplines. Instead, she can embrace their tenets of proportion and scale and combine them through her innate fluidity with materials, color, and composition. Her assemblages embrace compromise and coexistence, reflecting how we inhabit the world, with all of its complexities and contradictions.