Kids grow up with all kinds of toys and games as their early introductions to being in the world and relating to their environment. The floor sculptures in Gina Alexandra Denton’s solo exhibition “Adult Baby Toy,” on display at EMP Collective through April 24, look a bit like some of those objects, with their specific, bright colors, lumpy and snaking shapes, and thick rings and chains.
Some of the shapes, such as those in the 'Types of Love' series, resemble pool noodles and inner tubes, teething rings, and those rainbow plastic rings that you stack from big to small onto a base. Like some of those toys, Denton's sculptures often have a slight plastic sheen because they're coated with acrylic and latex paints in so many bright shades of pink, green, blue, black, yellow, and more. The paint seals up the fabric of the cylindrical, spherical, or ringlike shapes, seemingly immobilizing what would be soft, squishy objects.
In these pieces, Denton plays with texture, color, pattern, and shape, appealing to our haptic perception, the way we understand the world via touch and texture. This sense also relates to encoding and memory; textures such as felt, crochet, and canvas (all of which Denton uses here) leave impressions, and we carry around our individual associations with these materials. Although the pompoms and a few of the canvas and cotton fabric pieces aren't all painted, they feel imbalanced by those that are painted, making them all literally and metaphorically more stiff—but this plastic paint draws a link to the way that screens stifle our physical engagement with objects. Technology is constantly progressing and kids are learning early on how to use it, which is not at all inherently bad. But actual tangible playthings, designed specifically with varieties of textures, sounds, and colors, accommodate the different stages of a child's development. Though there are a number of great apps and games that can teach us things, our physical engagement with them is limited to just a smooth, flat screen. Denton's sculptures and materials restate the importance of tactile learning through different tangible objects.
If I haven't made it abundantly clear yet with all this talk of touching, I had a strong desire to touch everything in this show and move it all around, to shuffle the shapes and swap them up and make new creatures. In some ways, art is actually an adult baby toy. When we're young, parents and teachers give us crayons and Play-Doh, and after maybe sampling some of it with our tongues, we start to make images that represent our world somehow. I'm not sure at what age children stop making art, but some keep going and playing, and it becomes another way to understand some aspects of the world.
If I were about 20 years younger, I'd probably have more fun walking around these sculptures with colorful pompoms and moplike textures budding out of them. A kid can roam around them gleefully, not really thinking, just accepting all the weird things in this strange universe. Conglomerations of soft cylinders and spheres made of different fabrics and colors in 'Aripana #1' seem to delicately balance on each other in this off-kilter stack, and the sculpture's round, pink and black-spotted "head" looms out toward me. A small black-and-white-striped hat shape sits on the ground, off to the side from this little fella, as does a bent-up ring with patterns that are similar to that hat, more of which are found elsewhere in the space. The hats seem a little anachronistic, a little too representational compared to the abstract shapes that abound here. Still, the various iterations and combinations of shapes here offer a momentary, but necessary, kidlike sense of wonder.
And yet, here I am, a 23-year-old woman, trying to make sense of the space I occupy, wondering what, if anything, my interactions and contributions mean in this big ol' world. I had been caught up thinking about these sculptures in relation to infancy and childhood until I saw that the central piece's title is 'Krishna Within a Yoni.' Each sculpture blooms from the center of the black-and-white canvas mat or white plywood base it rests on, and five pieces circle around this middle one whose huge mat, at first glance, appears to be an elongated sun or a strange eyeball. But it's actually a yonic symbol (a Sanskrit word which refers to the vagina, and in Hindu beliefs represents feminine power and birth), and what better symbol for life (mammalian life, at least) than the yoni? Many of the other shapes start to appear more yonic or phallic, signifying the "adult" element of "Adult Baby Toy," but the colors and patterns soften and distract from the graphic nature of the imagery.
Instead of making any kind of monumental distinction between our stages of development, from infancy through childhood to adulthood, Denton rolls them all together and makes this exhibition more about the cyclical process of life. There's no tangible line that we cross into adulthood, but we make decisions and find ourselves in situations that hopefully teach us something. If nothing else in life is sure or stable, we are always navigating that uncertainty in the world through our bodies and our senses.