If you were to observe Ian Van D.’s studio environment in the George L Mosse Humanities Building you would witness a relentless flow of material exchange. Junk, in the form of discarded wood, carpet and cardboard, enter by the ton.


In one memorable moment two bales of hay aggravated the sinuses of a studio mate. An aggravation that captures the intent of the work — to sift through and spark life into the discards of humanity.  Exhuming ghosts that most would prefer lie dormant. 




The artist’s upcoming show, “Vacant Rites,”at Abel Contemporary, from April 15 to May 30, expands upon this theme. The show explores the remains of a single cherry tree cut down nearly 15 years ago in rural Wisconsin. In certain ways, the sculptures are recreations of the tree itself — an assemblage of vertical boards that stand over the viewer to create an uneasy shelter.


Each sculpture is a tenuous construction only just pinned together — perhaps 15 pieces of raw sawn wood bundled with oak pegs and nails. There is a natural extension from past shows, the same controlled chaos that has become his signature.


Van D. is prolific, yet leaves little behind. As a current graduate student within UW’s art department, he has had five solo shows. These shows match the character of the material that enters his studio, refined but not resolved.


The work produced by the artist is rarely permanent, and in fact the majority of this work enters the waste stream exactly where it left off. There is a cycle created from the curb, to the studio, to the gallery and back to the curb. Which leaves one to wonder, why go through the labor of construction? 


To revisit the artist’s studio, you get the sense the output is not the answer but rather an indication of labor. An attempt to understand through the hands, if not the mind, the spirited presence of our material culture. In the sculptures the artist has prepared for Vacant Rites there is feeling of precarious balance, and a lesson on how to live with the objects we’ve left behind. 


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