Consisting mostly of sculptural installations, "Elements 2000" was mounted at seven participating sites in conjunction with Women's Caucus for Art and the 88th Annual College Art Association Conference curated by Devorah Sperber and Jane Ingram Allen, each work in the show was to contain at least 2,000 separate elements. The conception of "element" included all of its myriad permutations: as information, assemblage, building block, cell, conduit, iota, cubicle, obsession. or repetition.
The seven venues, including Snug Harbor Cultural Center, P.S. 122, Ernest Rubenstein Gallery at the Education Alliance Building, and two galleries in Brooklyn, The Cave and Silicon Fine Arts, are diverse spaces, both public and private. The spectacular or intimate nature of each installation was reinforced by the sites themselves. Snug Harbor, for example, showcased over 300 artists, while The Cave and P.S. 122 only one or two.
The installations were created on site, retaining a freshness and spontaneity derived from the most simple of materials: cardboard, wire, machine parts, medical supplies and wood. These sources suggest a trace of the human but also imply how our species has impacted on nature. In Barbara Roux's Rise of a Thicket(1999), branches were grafted and wired to wax leaves, forming a grove with all the decorative force of a museum diorama. Liz Dodson's and James Brenner's Techno Antiquity(1999) presented video images of air, earth, water, and fire projected onto vitrines, only to be digitized away, like the cognitive erosion of the Jungian archetypal man. Marcia Widenor's Trees(1999) was composed of simple floor-to-ceiling arboreal forms, hand spun from flax string.
Some favored an old-fashioned epic pictorialism. Devorah Sperber's Virtual Environment !(1999) consisted of thousands of spools of colored thread that glistened like oil paint, revealing an image of a rock wall. G. Jessie Sadia, Jr's Sock Monkey(1999) used old glued envelopes to form a bravura wall-length tapestry. The image (of the sock monkey) was drawn in fire, employing the utmost precision. Traditional drafting skills, usually the heart of more academic pictorial arts, were here served up with wit and surprise in the service of a broader language of sculptural construction.
The sciences were alternatively honored and parodied. Christina Barbachino's "Ovum" series(1999) used biohazard bags, tagged in a fertility clinic. Small red beads of unknown origin doubled as eggs. In China Blue's Double Dutch Machine (1998), an electric mechanism spun a child's jump rope while forming the sign of the DNA double helix. Delanie Jenkin's Out of Touch (1998) was a whole wall of rubber fingercots used by physicians for internal exams.
Waste products, landfills, and garbage dumps were strong and recurring signifiers for the self. Nizeki Hiromi's Balls(2000), piles of junk mail soaked in water and wallpaper paste to form spheres, were hammered into the walls and ceiling using four-inch nails.
These mini-asteroids spread indiscriminately, their anonymous no-identity communications addressed to anyone for any reason. In direct contrast, Katie Seiden built a calming, almost Zen-like environment from a rusted industrial closet. It demonstrated that tensions may be released with a framework of adaptation and creative revision.
The core of this exhibition was, as in surrealism, the juxtaposition of cheap reproducible products and the detritus of culture in odd groupings that remind us of our own relationship to physical materials. How these elements fit together comprises for good or ill the fabric of contemporary life. The underside of all this naming and commodification is the process of internalization, which inherently guarantees neurosis and obsession as an individual response. Two thousand free standing elements are then a warding-off of the abyss, a powerful secular magic. The exhibition implied that in the year 2000, the obsessive response was the normative one, given cultural, scientific, and environmental milieus. These disjunctions between the so-called neutrality of science, the entreaties of the commercial culture, and the private and sometimes dark reflections of the psyche gave "Elements 2000" its authority, individuality and power.