February 2002      
  Ward Shelley
at Pierogi

During the past several years, Ward Shelley has garnered attention for, among other things, his hilariously kinetic household appliances and an intricate hand drawn chart chronicling the advent and development of the Williamsburg, Brooklyn art scene. He's also been devising quirky, participatory architectural constructions, which have primarily been shown in Europe, although one, Voyager (1998), appeared at Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens. Shelley's exhibition at Pierogi involved such a construction, which clicked on just about every possible level and turned out to be one of the highlights of a beleaguered new season.
The Cube was a 10-by-10-by-15-foot geometric structure that began at the midpoint of the gallery and bisected the dividing wall in back to jut into a second room (so that from the main gallery it did indeed appear to be cubical). Meticulously constructed by Shelley out of sundry materials like perforated aluminum sheets, wood and colored Plexiglas windows, this metallically gleaming work, with a prominent red stairway leading from the entrance up into its interior, had an immediate visual impact: equal parts science fiction module, amusement-park fun house, Minimalist sculpture and wacky jungle gym. You could enter (after making an appointment with Shelley) to crawl, shimmy, slide and climb your way through an elaborate 100-foot route containing numerous interior chambers full of surprises. A "forest" made of hanging, colorful cloth ribbons came with
  recorded bird sounds. Nearby, a trolley whisked you into a claustrophobic, but visually expansive, hall of mirrors. One thing led to another, and everything had a sneaky evocative power, including parachute fabric that suddenly filled with wind to squeeze you, as if you were struggling through a birth canal. Meanwhile, all the pragmatic structures, such as entrances, climbable holes up a wall, windows and inclines, doubled as compelling sculptural devices, while maintaining the slightly cheesy, homemade look the artist favors.
Shelley's cube, which turned the visitor, in effect, into a moving sculptural component, was delightful but also psychologically complex. For one thing, you always felt constricted, encumbered by an ungainly, suddenly giant-sized body inching through an oddball shrunken environment that nevertheless had familiar attributes. Moreover, you were also
  aware that your awkward personal trip was being recorded on video by 15 surveillance cameras discreetly installed throughout the interior and monitored by Shelley at his nearby computer. Videocassettes of cube-goers were displayed on shelves in a corner archive and could be watched by the public on a nearby monitor. Nerve-rattling self-consciousness and self-transcending wonderment came together in this work, which also scrambled issues of public and private. Ultimately, this piece was very much about community, including the experience of moving through the cube, the interaction with Shelley, and the videos and photographs of the participants. Shelley's investigation of cognition and transportation (both physical and psychological) was altogether winning.

-Gregory Volk
Ward Shelley: Installation view of The Cube at Pierogi