“Madam,” featuring the work of Anya Kielar, features four shadow boxes, made of foam, fabric, aqua resin, paint and plexiglas. Each of the four sculptural wall hangings are uniform in size, with a rectangle perimeter serving as a container for the bust of a figure that is split into pieces and wrapped in fabric. All four walls of the gallery contain a single piece, which positions the figures to face one another intently, huddled in conversation. The work is activated by the viewer stepping into the gallery, freezing each figure in place mid-sentence and creating a quiet, buzzing tension, as if crashing a dinner party.
In “Mother,” the figure is snuggled tightly between the walls of the frame with one hand grazing the side of its face. Wrapped in sandy granite fabric, the figure stares blankly forwards, its eyelids heavy, lips downturned. Drowsiness emanates from the body language, and the viewer joins a complicated relationship with the piece, as the piece itself is exhausted of being observed. This apprehension is furthered by the display of the figure. A quick observation of the female bust calls to a portrait of the Madonna, but here, boxed-in like a coffin and preserved like a fossil, the figure becomes an augmented relic, stepping down from a pedestal and asking to simply exist.
A different mechanism to being observed is introduced in “Artist,” as the profile of a figure sits coyly camouflaged by the pattern of its skin. Wheat and cream stripes fall vertically while pale yellow circles and mauve squiggles explode across the surface. The fabric’s pattern muddles and confuses the outline of the portrait, making it hard to access the details of each individually wrapped portion that compiles the bust. Despite this, the eyes become the focal point. Wide ovals with pointed corners filled with a lifeless plane of black stares blankly at the viewer. The complicated relationship is reiterated as this alluring figure becomes magnetic, making it difficult to look away. This figure uses distraction to disguise her identity and conceal her truth from the viewer, but the eyes offer a glimpse at the soul that remains within.
Looking over its shoulder while huddling its knees close to the chest is the figure that lives in “Dreamer.” The fabric, matte slate with cobalt droplets, wraps a face that stares pensively into the distance. A sense of longing both toward the past and the future pervades the room as the body slumps together and faces forward, while the eyes glance back. This figure desires to be known, its focused gaze fills with palpable ambition.
Kielar strikes a balance of summoning intense intrigue with each shadowbox while also maintaining a suspended strain between the viewer and the work. Rather than reading like a celebration of the female identity, it encourages a more complex dialogue surrounding history’s relationship to the female identity. Though Kielar puts each figure physically in a box, their bashful disinterest, defiant disguising and hopeful longing pervades, not allowing themselves to remain in that box for long.
Anya Kielar’s “Madam” at Document, 1709 West Chicago, on view through June 17.