Always Begin At The End (Smack Mellon)

Diana Shpungin, Always Begin At The End, 2022
Solo Exhibition at Smack Mellon, Brooklyn, NYC
January 15th – February 20th 2022

Always Begin At The End uses common iconography to address loss, memory, empathy and failure between the private and public, personal and political spheres. The exhibition centers around a marble tiled arena covering a significant portion of Smack Mellon’s 4,000 square foot main gallery floor. A felled chandelier, a record player, seashells, chairs, chain link fencing, cast body parts, doors, cardboard boxes, a reconfigured American flag, and loose change add to the range of quotidian objects that the artist has carefully scattered throughout this sprawling stage and across the gallery walls. Displayed together at Smack Mellon for the first time, this new body of work has been made within the past five years, encompassing two polarizing presidential elections and the most extreme lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This exhibition features many objects made from cast paper, alongside combined found objects that the artist alters, construction materials, and a single hand-drawn pencil animation metaphorically smashed by rocks. Much of Shpungin’s works can be seen as “drawings” in the sense that they are literally covered in drawing’s most ubiquitous medium: graphite pencil. This material marks, delineates, coats, and covers the surfaces and crevices of her objects, transforming them into solid shadows. Graphite itself is a dynamic medium that amasses darkness as well as reflectivity the more it is layered onto a surface. Shpungin painstakingly covers each object but does not obscure it, in a process that both masks and gives depth. She also uses drawing to sketch and to plan, outlining the possible future incarnations of a thing—an object, a building, an idea. Shpungin’s self-reflexive works are their own loops that construct, mark, and imagine through the process of their own creation.
Shpungin’s objects often begin as symbols from the artist’s personal history but are disguised within their own common representations. The works come together as an archive, a futile and heroic attempt to chronicle absolutely everything in the world. Her works are led by a heartstrong conceptualism based on personal and collective memories and formed through careful intersections of familiar objects and materials. In some cases the works are embodiments of literal metaphors, and, in others, their meanings are embedded in the actions that caused their creation, such as Paper Weight (Win), (2016), a graphite covered brick crushing a sheet of drawing paper. The exhibition’s title Always Begin At The End, and its acronym ABATE, signal to the way that time can loop, how stories can start in unexpected places, and how a journey’s end might be less than its imagined start. At the end, afterall, the material we will have had to work with is all already there.

photography: Etienne Frossard