Art Forum, 1993

by David Pagel

A loopy parade of pre-oedipal playthings surrounded the visitor to Daniel Wiener’s jam-packed exhibition of unnameable sculptural objects. His exuberantly colored, multitextured, and polymorphously perverse configurations of the materials from which household handicrafts are often made seem to be the real, living fusions of abstract mutant cartoon characters and unattached libidinal energy. You could easily imagine that the strangely familiar things that touched every surface of the gallery and charged every inch of its space resulted from a chance encounter between the 20th-century psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and the loveable puppets from Sesame Street. It is as if Reich, who is now regarded as little more than a benign crackpot, had gotten his revenge by smuggling one of his patented “orgone accumulators” onto the set of the children’s TV program. Wiener’s own show looks like it was made by Big Bird, Oscar, and the Cookie Monster, in a collective attempt to fabricate three-dimensional equivalents for the sensations experienced inside Reich’s molecule-collecting sense stimulator.

With a surplus of humor, and an open invitation to poke and prod their endlessly fingerable protrusions, orifices, lumps, and tentacles, Wiener’s guiltless constructions appeared to be driven by a compulsion to communicate. Unambiguously oral–but never fixated at this stage–they seem silently to stutter and scream, spasmodically to gesticulate and blankly to stare, as if the messages they wanted to convey were both impossible to express and simple, simultaneously nonverbal and part of a common language.

Each of Wiener’s eight goofily animated arrangements of meticulously twisted wire, suggestively poured plaster, obsessively wadded Sculpey, and lovingly sewn fabric gives the impression that it has, if not a personality of its own, at least a particular style–a consistent mode of being in the world whose movement, function, and demeanor dovetail in a singular whole. Two pieces dangle from the ceiling like psychedelic spiders tangled up in their webs; two teeter on the edges of spindly-legged pedestals; two sit on swollen muslin cushions like cuddly sultan slugs; and two others sprout from gloppy puddles of spilled plaster, growing like beanstalks to the ceiling of the gallery.

Wiener’s small-to-larger-than-life-sized toys mischievously scamper across categories, boundaries, and definitions, not in order to cultivate confusion or to repeat some fashionable deconstruction of binary oppositions–beginning with that between sculpture and installation–but simply because they embody an excess of energy that is both physical and psychological. Their infectious vitality cannot be traced back to corporeal experience, or fully explained by the ungovernable fabrications of fancy. Rather, it fluidly flows between these two worlds, twisting and bending elements of each into a union the effects of which are as specific as they are unsayable. Wiener’s supple works arouse our curiosity and stimulate our interest because they incessantly migrate from one strange association to another unforeseen connection, never resting for very long on anything with which our conscious minds are too familiar.

Wiener’s original, inventive art is a delightful melange of the powers of nonverbal communication. Like a hallucinatory game of charades, it demonstrates that the pleasures of naming are not exhausted by what is captured in words, that they spill into the uncertain territory at the borders of language where bodies and naming rub up against one another, shift positions, and continually generate meaning.

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