Eileen Doktorski’s Oblivion
Through Sept. 6

You know from the moment you enter Oblivion, Eileen Doktorski’s installation at Artspace, that there is something amiss. Your first clue is a lone, small, gray and dead fish lying at the base of the gallery title wall, with a few rock fragments scattered about. It’s a desolate little entry scene, and the tone just goes downhill from there.

Most of the references in Oblivion are tied not to the natural world but rather to the home and our consumer culture. Strewn about the gallery, post-disaster style, are all sorts of household objects: children’s toys, a few dolls, a fragment of a child’s broken high chair, a shoe, some clothing (including a wedding dress and train), a globe, various broken pieces of furniture, a cooler, a microwave. All the objects have a dirty patina, as if just recovered from a flood. There is also a piped-in, gurgling soundtrack accompanying the work that seems to be emanating from the very bowels of the building’s plumbing. This has the disquieting effect of flushing away whatever bit of optimismif anyyou may have had regarding this scenario.

A key component of the work is two desolate-looking figures cast from life: a young child clinging to a tire as if floating adrift, and an adult figure sunk into a recliner and looking away from the rest of the scene into an oddly tilted, blank-console TV. Many objects are also rather uneasily recessed into (or protruding from) the floor such that you are only viewing the upper portions of these items. The tire-clutching girl, for instance, only appears as half of a torso. The effect is one of sharply separating these objects from our surroundings; it lends an eerie, surreal air to the installation, as if it is somehow disappearing into an abyss below. There is a post-apocalyptic feel to the installation, like this home has just suffered through a natural disaster. Hurricane Katrina comes to mind, yet a particularly creepy part of the work is the father-figure of the house ensconced in his recliner, vacantly clutching his remote control and entirely oblivious to the turmoil unfolding all around him.

Doktorski has worked with these themes of social issues and human struggle before, and it pervades all her work. Oblivion expands on some of her previous themes by incorporating the added social dimension of all the consumer flotsam. This is a pretty ambitious agenda. While the multitude of objects on display provides lots of opportunity for visual interest and sculptural acuity, it’s debatable how much the accumulated piles of debris that ramble throughout the work clarify her message.

The most critical part of this work is how it ensnares us as viewers. Doktorski has captured the full trauma of a natural disaster and leaves a tableau unfolding precisely at the moment that you have come up on the incident; I couldn’t help but feel a little implicated in what was going on. But it’s also sensitive emotional territory to investigate as it touches on delicate personal issues such as family history, the intimacy of relationships, and our connection (or isolation) from the natural world. This bleak, harrow installation will leave you pondering the stuff you own (and whether it owns you), but most of all, it leaves you feeling not just uneasy, but gasping for air.