Rebeca Bollinger, installation view of “The Burrow,” 2019. Photo: Courtesy Gallery 16, San Francisco

Rebeca Bollinger

San Francisco

Gallery 16

Rebeca Bollinger has a knack for the unique, a gift for eliciting previously unknown potential from her materials, particularly when conjoined in unexpected combinations. The elegant, enigmatic objects and images in her recent exhibition, “The Burrow,” suggest props for an unknown theatrical event, re-presented in a gallery setting and thus opened to non-linear readings. In preparation for the show, Bollinger had tabletops with sawhorse-like legs of various heights made to serve as supports for sculptures and framed cork boards on which various images had been printed. Then, in response to the space, she configured the neatly carpentered “display furniture” in inventive ways that, to a certain extent, subverted its intended function. A few of the legs still acted as supports; in one corner, a graceful grouping of three printed cork boards and a number of small sculptures was presented on two tables of different heights, suggesting a kind of familial relationship. Other legs, however, lay on their sides in the middle of the floor; on one of these, Coffee Table (2019), puddles of melted and re-congealed aluminum rested directly on the reclining frame. In Presentation (2019), a cork board was hinged to a set of legs, as if it were a desk that had been folded down. On the board, an anachronistic floral print sank into the cork surface, much of it obscured by a large black stain suggesting the incursion of a darkness that fades and occludes even the everyday.

Other boards featured close-up views of fragments from Bollinger’s sculptures, bits of architecture, and—in a “meta” moment—piles of photographs on a table and a close-up of an open photo album. In each case, the printed image covered both the board and its frame, making it seem at times as though it were a ghostly projection on the flat surface from some hidden source.

The overall strategy seemed to be to make us look, and look again. Are these objects redefined to express a sculptural inventiveness, or are they meant to describe how the mind loses its ability to name things as memory loss sets in? Perhaps both. The semi-obscured scenes printed on the boards suggest a kind of confusion, invoking how one thing can be overlaid with another until neither one can be fully seen or separated. The puddled aluminum suggests obscuring, as well as mysteriously shiny stains and portals into half-hidden worlds.

It was tempting to see the show as an installation, but each piece deserved consideration. A skinny bunch of flowers cast in aluminum (Forever Flowers, 2018) hung mournfully on a long cord in front of a wall, its shadow seemingly as real as the silvery stems and blooms. Two ceramic works, both titled Cloud, were so startlingly original that their material origins—clay and glaze—became almost unrecognizable. Cast aluminum potatoes rested on a rectangle of black geotextile, a synthetic cloth used to stabilize loose soil; two more, cast this time from a slab of glass, perched companionably nearby. For Bollinger, potatoes are foundational—nutritious yet ugly, honest and humble, hidden from view underground until dug up. They are part of the hauntingly idiosyncratic vision she offers viewers: one not unlike that of Franz Kafka, an equally singular storyteller. In Kafka’s “The Burrow” (from which the show borrowed its title), a mole-like creature makes its way through a warren of tunnels it has built over the course of a lifetime, perhaps alluding to the sometimes difficult experience of making one’s way through labyrinthine memories or (mysteriously) accumulated possessions. The catalogue uses a quotation from the story as an epigraph to frame the experience of Bollinger’s work: “I dig an experimental burrow, naturally at a good distance from the real entrance, a burrow just as long as myself, and seal it also with a covering of moss. I creep into my hole, close it after me, wait patiently…then fling off the moss, issue from my hole, and summarize my observations…”