A BLACK HOLE, A STEALTH FIGHTER, A CLUSTER OF EGGS— E.V. Day's project for Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum, Intergalactic Installations, moves from the scale of a collapsed star to that of a reproductive system, from a vast, unknowable ending to a much smaller group of beginnings. Blacklight picks out the green monofilament used to delineate a F-117A Stealth Fighter's facets, and a 3D grid marks the unimaginable topography of the black hole (the form is derived from a 2D illustration that attempted to describe a fourth-dimension wormhole between two areas of three dimensional space.) A play between the visible and invisible is set in motion. These are visual descriptions of objects which by definition cannot be seen, or which are designed to be unseen. And the group of flying forms, eggs trailing resinous tails that place them in limbo, both egg and sperm but not quite zygote? We have here a set of possibilities, and also a clue towards an organic reading of these inorganic objects. Biology has entered a space of science and hard technology. The connections between Day's forms will be intuited more than described, seen and felt before known. We perhaps should mimic her studio practice, with its painstaking arrangements of forms suspended in space, and make connections.
The sculptures included in intergalactic installations stage themselves in potent tableaux, their soft forms hardening, transformed through tensile force into rigidity. Language used to describe such frozen moments will typically be led to sexual metaphors, intentionally or other-wise, as in the previous sentence which set out to describe the artist's signature uses or monofilament and ended up suggesting something else entirely. This can be a useful way of exploring meaning in Day's forms, which are as slippery and as descriptive as language itself.
Monofilament, which could also simply be called fish-ing line, is Day's key medium. Monofilament appears in a wide range of contemporary art, but as a shy presence hovering around a project, hoping not to be noticed. Take as example Damien Hirst's The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living (1991), better known as the shark floating in formaldehyde. I had once been struck by hearing Jeff Koons describe how difficult it was to float basketballs in the exact center of tanks of water for his Total Equilibrium Tank series (1985), a trick that Hirst seemed to have appropriated to dramatic affect in his series of preserved animal corpses in formaldehyde. It was disappointing to then visit Sensation, the notorious 1999 exhibition of new British art at the Brooklyn Museum, and discover what had been intentionally obscured in photographs of the piece. The shark was simply hung from the frame of its tank/vitrine on U-shaped loops of monofilament, running under the belly and pinching the flesh. This seemed provisional and poorly thought out, spoiling the potent simplicity of the work. An artist like Hirst works from the result back to the process: the piece will be a shark in a tank, now how do we do that? Day has a product in mind as she works, but continually develops her forms in an engagement with means and media: that intimate involvement with objects is fertile.
Monofilament enters Day's work attached to a dress, Black Bombshell, (1999). In that work, and others in the Exploding Couture series, a dress is frozen in the moment of an explosion, the fabric torn to scraps and propelled outward like shrapnel. Day works directly with cliché, using familiar imagery as a common language that can be subjected to very uncommon, defamiliarizing transformations. This was done most famously in Bombshell, (1999) the sequel to Black Bombshell which rigged up a twice-life size reproduction of the billowing white dress worn by Marilyn Monroe, in the notorious subway grate scene of The Seven Year Itch. That scene will outlive the film; it could easily outlive the memory of Monroe. (In fact, the still image that we remember, and that Day's piece evokes, is from a publicity stunt performed in Times Square to promote the movie, not from the movie itself.) It begins as a peculiarly 1950s image of female sexuality, the impersonal force of a subway vent conspiring to reveal a woman's figure, blowing her skirt into the air as she vainly attempts to hold down the wayward material. This variation on a typical girlie-mag theme became iconic through Monroe's performance, which exaggerated the twist that gives all such images their power; the moment when an outward expression of dismay slips and an expression of pleasure becomes visible. In such depictions of female sexuality, all tension is derived from the battle between restraint and revelation, between shame and proud display. Monroe's version restrains its restraint to the merest hint of irony, a vaguely embarrassed curl to the corners of her broad smile; her display is of pure relief and release.
Depictions of sexuality are structured by ideas of gender. They acquire force through repetition. The more often heard, the more familiar the expression; a commonplace can easily be taken for a truth. And ideas of gender are structured by depictions of sexuality. The sexual stereotype is thus an interesting place to begin to address and alter ideas of gender. Monroe's dress was subjected to an external force pushing it out and up and a resistant internal force pushing down and in. Day's Bombshell is exploding from within. The dress fragments are suspended floor to ceiling on monofilament pulled into tension with turnbuckles. The pieces have the grace and complexity of rigging. Subway grate and woman have combined, but in the fissile way that a fuse and a charge combine. In this dress, and in the Exploding Couture series generally, the image is of an orgasmic energy rendered as an awesome and kinetic force. Alongside that series, Day began another series of works involving thong underwear. Thongs had appeared in Sanguine Sisters (2002), but now flew solo—or rather in squadrons. Impregnated with resin, they are frozen in taut forms reminiscent of Stealth warplanes. Day, in an interview, credits the idea's origin to that blessedly brief fashion moment, immortalized in the Starr Report, when the straps of thongs, stretched diagonally across the exposed, low-rise jean-clad hips of their wearers, became ornamental. Day noted, “I don't think there has ever been such a public phenomenon that focused so clinically on the female genitalia. The hiked-up waistbands looked like wings ready to fly out of their pants... I thought, let's let these poor ensnared thongs fly and resemble their own sense of power.” The thongs' deployment relies on Day's skill in rigging monofilament, but converts the lines of force from near-vertical into near-horizontal angles. The monofilament, already presented very openly in its use on the dresses, now described trajectories, as the impudent pudenda-coverings flew in tight, Blue Angels formations across the lobby of the Whitney Museum at Altria in her exhibition G-Force (2001).
From the thong, one now sees it is a short step to the F-I I 7A Nighthawk, more familiarly known as the Stealth Fighter. The product of a secret program set in motion in the early 1970s, the Stealth Fighter's black, faceted form made a dramatic entry into contemporary design upon its declassification at the end of the 1980s. Mood River, curator Jeffrey Kipnis and Annetta Massie's 2002 exhibition of currents in contemporary art and design at the Wexner Center for the Arts, included a model of the F-I I 7A alongside a platter designed by Ben van Berkel, a church proposal by the architect Peter Eisenman, and other objects inspired by its breathtakingly new form. Kipnis wrote, "The team of engineers and scientists who designed the plane had but one thing in mind, one effect: a functioning fighter with zero radar profile—period. Yet, as they saturated their materials with more information, it began to radiate with indexicality: its black, diamond-faceted, waspwaisted specter arrests all who see it."' Wasp-waisted is a strange phrase to use for a basically triangular object that could hardly be said to have a waist at all, but there must be something in the attempt to give this dark, crystalline object a human attribute. Day's Bombshell was prominent in the same exhibition. Seeing the F- 117A model, she writes, "further inspired my longtime fetish for the Stealth Fighter which manifests in the Stealth edition here” in intergalactic installations.
In never ignoring the lines she uses to tauten dresses and thongs, Day discovered a medium. Stealth (2006), wasp-waist and all, is construct-ed out of green monofilament, lit with black light and held in tension by clear monofilament. The second large scale piece on view, Black Hole (2006), is similarly a drawing in space executed in monofilament. Day has always been interested in externalizing events typically coded as feminine and interior. Her pieces remain strongly gendered—it's the Gal in Intergalactic that draws her to that particular word—even while exploring forms that seem genderless, or if anything masculine. Stealth, seen in context of the thongs, is an extension of a theme Day has been developing consistently for half a decade. Where the thongs in G-Force blended masculine and feminine traits, Day sees Stealth as a penetrator, infiltrator, masculine. Black Hole achieves its gendered state through an act of transference: In Freudian terms, hilariously, it would be the ultimate vagina dentata, once you enter you are enveloped with such force you will not return, and you will be transported to another universe against your will," writes the artist. Black Hole is thus a wormhole, and depicted as such, connecting a known world with an unknown one. The matter entering it may leave, transformed and unrecognizable. The form of the Black Hole is also, to the artist, the hypothetical inversion of explosion."' The thongs and the dresses stay with us, even as they disappear, replaced by new forms or by a destroyer of forms. The Stealth fighter was designed to pass unseen, delivering nuclear payloads to a now-defunct enemy (the F- 1 1 7A is itself headed for mothballs within this decade — a new form of invisibility). The black hole, beyond an observer's event horizon, cannot be seen at all, as the escape velocity from gravitational force exceeds the speed of light. And so E.V. Day has finally made some-thing invisible from this art medium treasured for its notional invisibility.
Day's work has frequently suggested the creative aspects of destruction the subject is sex, after all, In this exhibition, the two invisible destroyers have actually become procreative. A squadron arrives at this exhibition in the form of eggs trailing resin tails. (Building the dresses educated Day in monofilament; the G-string jets led into further resin experiments. In each case, a substance first used functionally becomes a formal element itself.) The forms in Astral Glide, named in a play on the popular Astro Glide brand of personal lubricant, "form a hybrid of egg and sperm.” Self-fertilizing like a flower? The second-wave feminism prediction of the future obsolescence of men, viewed as a feminized ejaculation? Actually, Day says they “are like these orgasmic intergalactic products" of the other two sculptures. Amid two invisible objects, these very visible objects, externalized images of internal processes, frozen moments of fertilization, propose a visceral response to things which can not be viewed. In each case, you might not see them, but you'll know it when they get you.
— Eric Frederickson