Imagine the incredible: A giant man with a giant hand spontaneously grabs our densely populated downtown. He rips up King, Meeting, and East Bay streets from the ground and turns us upside down. The Holy City is practically hanging on marionette strings. Yet the layers of concrete, dirt, and buildings remain.
"The city is so prevalent. It feels like we've always lived this way," Yulia Pinkusevich contemplates. "But I'm interested in looking at a much grander time frame ... is this type of city obsolete? How permanent is this environment? Why does it exist and what is its influence?"
From the soaring steeples of King and Broad streets, to the pristine porches South of Broad, Charleston's architecture defines us. Amidst the hustle and bustle of tourist season, Pinkusevich will make you stop and look up with her transformative exhibition Reversion, opening at Redux Contemporary Art Center on Friday.
Pinkusevich's show is less commentary and more a question. A world turned upside down is the focal point of her site-specific installation at Redux, but also of her work as a whole. "Architecture is transformative," she says. "It's an icon and a symbol of whatever a city wants to put forth, and it affects how we live. I'm curious as to how long our cities will last. I think that my drawings try to ask this same question."
Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in the former U.S.S.R. and influenced by a life of international and domestic travels, Pinkusevich is a self-described city girl. Moving to New York City at eight years old was a pivotal moment in the young artist's conscious understanding of architecture. "Being a Soviet kid, the Twin Towers held a symbolism," she explains. "You identify a city through its architecture, like the Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge. I wasn't old enough to understand everything then, but I had that visceral feeling — these structures are amazing, and they were made by humans."
Using simple components, like chalk and salt, Pinkusevich helps audiences to see the wonder of our world in a different light. This interdisciplinary artist definitely looks up. A lot.
"We're creatures of habit, and some of the most exciting moments in life for me are discovering something new or a realization when you think about something in a different way," Pinkusevich says. "I like the idea of making you think about the impossible — visions of the mind that don't exist in reality."
On a more literal level, Pinkusevich is creating a large wall drawing at Redux that envelops the gallery's entrance with a series of small salt sculptures. "Reversion" also includes a lens that reverses the optics of the wall drawing and plays with perception.
"My exhibit will be interactive," Pinkusevich explains. "I want to engage with the viewer physically and with his or her perceptions as well. A lot of my work is of a scale meant to place the viewer within the image."
When you first step into the gallery, the wall image is the first thing you see, but as you get closer, your gaze is drawn to other observers in front of you as you continue looking. "Everyone becomes a part of the piece," Pinkusevich says.
The lens on the opposing wall adds another visual layer, reducing the size of the wall image and turning it upside down. "So you'll see the city right side up — and tiny. That's the paradox."
Like most of Pinkusevich's work, the title of her show has multiple meanings. The wall drawing is inspired by a drawing Pinkusevich did in 2009 that never came to fruition. This first solo exhibit also fully fleshes out concepts she intended for her MFA thesis at Stanford last year.
"It's like going back to something I never fulfilled," she explains. "In addition to looking at the shifting landscape of the city and the visual reversion provided by the lens, I feel like I've been able to marinate and really process my whole experience over the last year."
Pinkusevich, who claims a diverse array of artistic influences (French symbolist Odilon Redon and German painter and sculptor Anselm Kiefer, among others) works in many mediums. "I do a lot of tests and play with concepts to see what comes of them," she says.
Charcoal and chalk are freeing to the boundary-pushing artistic philosopher. Sculpture brings with it increased cost, engineering problems and takes a lot of logistical time. "Drawing frees me of mundane burdens," Pinkusevich explains. "Wall drawing is a really pure form of art for me. You can't sell it or reconstitute it. In that way, it frees me and allows me to make mistakes. My art exists in the moment. For me, that's really rewarding."
Unless you're talking salt, of which Pinkusevich has 3,000 pounds in her Palo Alto, Calif. driveway. "Working with salt goes back to love to temporal materials," she explains. "I'm trying to use something familiar and shift it into the sublime."
Pinkusevich's fragile salt sculptures are created through erosion using water. "You can control certain things, but other things just happen ... it's a really delicate science experiment," she says. "Salt has this gorgeous quality — it kind of looks like marble and goes well with my monochromatic theme."
Light and dark, heavy and weightless, the attrition of time — these ideas are essential for Pinkusevich and her viewers. "We are all creatures of habit, and in my work and in life I try to break out of particular habits," she explains. "Allow yourself to think about time not through the human lifespan, but through a grander timeline. If you detach yourself from your ego and kind of pull back, looking out ... you'll see that our human civilization is just a speck on the trajectory of life on our planet."