Carolyn Salas’ exhibit “Buried Alive in the Blues,” the artist’s first solo exhibition at Mrs. gallery in Maspeth, is named for the song Janis Joplin was set to record the day she died. As a tribute to Janis, the band recorded the track as an instrumental, her missing voice all the more present for its absence. Salas chose the song as the exhibition’s title as it resonantly parallels the staggering losses and emotional anguish of the past year.
Converging the industrial with the ethereal, “Buried Alive in the Blues” holds space for grief, quietly, reverently honoring its impact. The pieces are all painted white to convey mourning.
The shimmering white, cut-aluminum sculptures seem sunlit, even soul-lit, from within, glowing as if infused with the spirits of the gone. The effect is otherworldly, even afterworldly, what many might hope heaven to be. They create a portal effect that seems to connect what is to what once was. The sculptures’ intricate and fluid contours allude powerfully to grief and loss, appearing to float even while grounded.
Salas cuts her maquettes from foam core, then scales them up into metal planar forms. Referencing the sad, stressful atmosphere in which Salas created “Buried in the Blues,” she calls it “a memorial to depression.”
The natural variations of Salas’ hand during her creation process keenly enhance the work’s structural authenticity in “Standing Figure” (2021). Punctuating the second-to-second internal strife of navigating uncertainty and fear, it fuses aluminum architecture and human architecture, showing a woman with intermittently sheared fingertips joined to a windowsill-like platform, Her expression seems to reflect deep weariness and exhaustion as an outstretched arm rises from the bottom of the structure, grasping for something she seems too depleted to give, even to herself.
Echoing figures in Greek sculpture and architecture, a freestanding latticework-like screen, “Untitled (Wall Screen)” (2021), integrates geometric shapes with human limbs. At the screen’s base, a woman’s leg extends gracefully from an amphora jug torso. Upraised hands balance half-moon semicircles from which tapered arches rise. Figures of women, called caryatids, often were built into ancient Greek stone buildings in place of pillars as architectural support. The combination mirrors the fragmented and jumbled memories the grieving can experience when remembering those they lost.
Nearly blending into the white wall behind the work, the cutouts in “Untitled” speak to the physical missing pieces that are part of someone being gone, also symbolizing the transition from the world of the living to the afterlife.
Exploring resilience, “Kneeling Figure” (2021) assumes a posture that may at first glance seem submissive or supplicating, but on closer inspection it exudes the energy of determination, preparing to vault over and overcome challenges. The body, lowered, heel upraised, is crouching and coiled, ready to spring. “Offerings” (2020) depicts a giving encounter between two parties. Seeming to reference social distancing, one seated figure takes a bowl from a standing figure’s outstretched hand, passing it through a narrow channel.
Salas’ “Buried Alive in the Blues” infuses a beautiful and soothing layer of tranquility into the devastation of grief, recognizing that in the lives of the bereaved, absence is sometimes the most powerful presence.