When you think of crumpled paper, you tend to think of creative screw-ups: the proverbial novelist, frustrated at not conjuring the right words, wadding up a sheet of paper and chucking it in the garbage. But for artists Ellen George and Jerry Mayer, crumpled paper is a wellspring of inspiration and invention. Since 2008, the two have collaborated on installations at Nine Gallery, using paper to create minimalist artworks with maximal impact.
Their current project, Off Black, is their most astonishing and disturbing to date. It's an enormous sheet of black paper crumpled and twisted into an irregular shape, 7 feet high and 11 feet across. Hanging from the ceiling by an aluminum rod attached to a small motor, the dark mass slowly rotates, like an oversized disco ball.
But there's nothing disco about Off Black. Resolutely unglamorous and grim, it projects an unsettling sense of dread despite its airborne pirouettes. On First Thursday I plopped down in the corner of the room and sat with the thing for a good 10 minutes. During that time, almost no one else came in, an unusual phenomenon on a busy opening night. It was as if people were scared of it. And with good reason: It's spooky. It's like a humongous tumor, a gangrenous foot, a necrotic intestine, full of gnarly protuberances and crannies. It's your liver after a night of heavy boozing: enlarged, aching, guilt-inducing.
There's also something perverse about Mayer and George's use of the motor. Without it, the piece would simply hang in place, a fanciful mobile. With it, the slow, relentless spinning exposes the sculpture's every contour to the viewer's clinical inspection, robbing it of its mystery, its privacy, its dignity, as that motor cranks away, mindlessly, unstoppably, like an electric fucking machine or some updated medieval torture device. And yet the work also projects an undeniable beauty. Its inward folds evoke sumptuous fabric or rose petals, and the element of rotation, for all its fearsomeness, mesmerizes.
The artists have created an inscrutable but highly allusive object that simultaneously invites and repels. You should see it, sit with it a while and see where it takes you.
SEE IT: Off Black is at Nine Gallery, 122 NW 8th Ave., 225-0210. Through July 28.