Above: Installation at Quappi Projects
It Is What Is Not Yet Known
Since moving to its current location in late 2019, Quappi Projects has yet to present a show quite like It Is What Is Not Yet Known, a debut of new work and first solo exhibition by former Brooklynite, Kiah Celeste. For most anyone keeping tabs on Louisville’s arts landscape in the past year, Celeste is not a new name, having been included in a handful of group shows across the state. This time, however, feels different, like a flashpoint for an artist seemingly about to boom. For someone who earned their BFA only five years ago, It Is What Is Not Yet Known resembles a mid-career showcase. Aside from being deceivingly well-crafted, Celeste’s historically-informed creations surprise in their banality and ruminate on global concerns in ways one would expect of an artist decades-deep into their practice.
Adorning the space at Quappi are nine found-object sculptures whose materials were sourced from Louisville’s Russell neighborhood, likely at warehouses, junk yards, or perhaps even nearby dumpsters. Celeste has collected industrial scraps, exercise equipment, household objects, and more, combining them in unlikely compositions that attain their posture and shape from the tension that the artist has wedged between the individual items. In a sense, these are formal and scientific experiments, such as Set (2020), wherein a malleable wooden plank balances itself and a bowed steel pipe by jutting itself into the pipe’s bend while its other end rests on the gallery floor. Overall, most works in It Is What Is Not Yet Known rely on this kind of discovered kinetic relationship between materials that radiates an anticipatory climax which, due to Celeste’s judicious and attentive construction, never unfolds.
As random or haphazard as some of Celeste’s products may appear, their reliance on art historical tropes bolsters the seriousness of her undertakings, even as they knot and wave throughout the gallery. The exhibition states as much, citing figures like Eva Hesse, Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, and the Arte Povera movement as inspirations for Celeste, which manifest in varied and tangential ways. Regarding Arte Povera, however, one may wonder if the small, easily-missed container supporting the structure of Endless, Nameless (2020) is a reference to Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit (1961) for its nearly identical size and shape to that of the small tins used by Manzoni to supposedly store and display his own feces in the name of art. After all, Celeste has managed to transform unwanted waste.
Nevertheless, Celeste is reverent in her application of artistic predecessors without holding them so closely as to fall into redundancy and irrelevance. Historian David Joselit has designated Hesse, Serra, and Nauman as notable participants of Process Art, the faction of late 20th century modernism that “dramatizes the tensions or failures in the translation from matter into form…[and] establishes incomplete or irrational systems.” Celeste’s work surely fits this mold, integrating unrelated parts to produce unusual instances that stress dissociation of individual elements and their dependence on each other to maintain structural integrity.
Whereas Joselit goes on to state that Process Art sheds light on the “breakdowns and blindspots” of budding communication technologies sweeping the globe during the latter half of the 1900s, Celeste fixates on environmental urgencies that have only become more and more apparent in the twenty-first century. Her forms illuminate the negligence Joselit describes, drawing collective attention to man-made miscellany deemed unusable by someone somewhere. In unison, they reveal a passive deteriorative nature of our consumer culture that is often relegated to locations outside the public eye, like at empty warehouses and junk sites. Celeste works against these habits, questioning what it means to be unusable by redefining the utility of her materials and extending their lifespan.
At the same time, the notion of place is a driving force of Celeste’s practice. One can find other works by Celeste on view at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort, houseguest and YARDSIDE in the South End neighborhood, and at various pop-up locations in Louisville, and each site possesses some agency in determining the forms they contain. At Quappi Projects, for instance, Baker (2020) deftly rests against one of the room’s poles, relying on the permanent structure to define its own form. That this pole is not quite the same as the one in Celeste’s studio translates to Baker taking a unique shape as presented in It Is What Is Not Yet Known.
Moreover, place and its association to the human form is punctuated—and even subverted—by the individual articles she combines, referring to activities that normally occur in specific locations. In their supplanted states, exercise balls, vacuum hoses, and flagpole bases conjure images of their respective functions being performed, all of which require the presence of the body to initiate. But Celeste, through restriction, inversion, binding, and the like, has prevented any of her findings from being properly utilized.
Parking lot bollards that typically mark walkways and pedestrian-only areas are huddled together so tightly in Pile of Pink (2020) that no human could reasonably fit between them. In a moment of implied chaos and dark humor, all surrounding spaces are now for humans and moving cars alike. Celeste often assumes these farcical scenarios wherein everyday objects are wrongfully employed to suggest moments of humor and chaos. Yet our ability to recognize the objects she uses, even as their functions are stripped, stems from the physical spaces where they become useful. As much as anything, Celeste’s sculptures presented at Quappi Projects are explorations into the relationship between place and function.
Celeste’s sculptures frequently deal with pressing questions regarding dominant narratives of shared political and social landscapes: When does a thing stop functioning? Who does usefulness benefit, and can it work against someone? How should we move on after something eventually outlives its utility? Through her recent compositions in It Is What Is Not Yet Known, Celeste applies these types of interrogations to the systems around us, using objects many would quickly recognize, but that are loaded with their own language, histories, and baggage.
It What Is Not Yet Known runs through March 6th, 2021 at Quappi Projects, located at 827 E Market St. and open Thursday & Friday 12-4, Saturday 11-3, and by appointment.
Hunter Kissel is a museum professional and writer living and working in Louisville, KY. He currently serves as Director of Engagement and Visitor Services at KMAC Museum.
Pile of Pink, road bollards, bulletproof glass, pigment
When the Window Cracked, glass, microfoam
Endless, Nameless, steel pipe, vacuum hose, pigment
Baker, steel pipe, vacuum hose, pigment